INDEPENDENCE — The first time Alabama coach Avery Johnson saw Collin Sexton was in the summer of 2015, between the point guard’s sophomore and junior years at Pebblebrook High in Mableton, Ga.
The setting was a Crimson Tide team camp, and Sexton was “cruising down the floor at about 1,000 miles an hour and shooting the ball and just outplaying everybody,” Johnson recalled Friday in a conference call.
At the time, Sexton had scholarship offers only from Georgia State and Kennesaw State.
“I said, ‘Well, let’s get this kid to my office immediately. I need to talk to him,’” Johnson said.
Johnson, who played point guard in the NBA for 16 years and won a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 before going on to coach the Dallas Mavericks — they lost to the Miami Heat in the 2006 Finals — and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, ultimately landed the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sexton.
Sexton spent one season with the Crimson Tide, leading them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 while averaging 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists before being chosen by the Cavaliers with the No. 8 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.
The 19-year-old became the first Alabama player to go in the top 10 since 1995, when the Los Angeles Clippers chose Antonio McDyess with the second pick.
“I think he’s ready for the NBA and has the potential to be a perennial All-Star,” the 53-year-old Johnson said.
The veteran coach added that Sexton “could’ve gone (to the NBA) straight out of high school” if league rules had allowed it.
“The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting an outstanding player, a player that I think is going to be a better pro than what he was as a collegiate player because of all the space, and games are longer,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be playing with more experienced players.
“He’s a multilevel player. He can get the ball to the basket and finish. (He has a) great midrange game (and is a) much-improved 3-point shooter. And he’s going to be very competitive on the defensive end.”
Nicknamed “Young Bull,” Sexton sometimes offered coaching advice to Johnson, just as Johnson would do with Gregg Popovich while playing for the Spurs.
“I would draw up a play sometimes and he would say, ‘No, Coach, let’s run something different. This is what I see on the floor,’” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Really?’
“I liked his boldness as the season went on. Sometimes he challenged me in a very constructive way or made a suggestion and I liked it. It built confidence and it was kind of fun. I would go back to my office and I would be all excited because it would remind me of what I used to do to Coach Pop. It showed a sign of growth.”
Sexton scored in double figures 29 times in 33 games at Alabama, with 16 games of 20 or more and three of at least 30. His career high was 40 against Minnesota in a game the Crimson Tide almost won despite playing 3-on-5 at the end after numerous players were ejected early and several others fouled out.
“He was basically in tears because he thought we were going to win the game,” Johnson said. “That’s a part of his DNA. It’s real, and that’s what I appreciate about him.
“He’s not afraid of the big stage, the lights,” Johnson added. “When you’re playing against all of these elite point guards in the NBA ... he’s not going to ask anybody for their autographs, OK? He’s going to show them a healthy dose of respect, but he’s going to think he belongs on the floor.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.