MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s Avery Johnson has had months to prepare and bring in a few of his own players before his college coaching debut.
That’s not how it worked out when Johnson took over his first NBA team a decade ago.
The former NBA player and coach, and Southern University and St. Augustine High opens with the Crimson Tide on Friday night against Kennesaw State, likely putting more fans in the seats and a few more points on the board this season. He got scant hours’ notice before his first NBA game as a head man when boss Don Nelson resigned and handed over the reins before a game against Charlotte late in the 2005 season. Johnson started 1-0 with a 104-93 win.
“Don Nelson passed me the whistle at about 11 in the morning and told the guys that I was going to be the next coach,” he recalled Thursday. “Fortunately we won and went on a pretty good run the rest of that year.”
Johnson went on to become the 2006 coach of the year after leading the Mavericks to their first appearance in the NBA Finals in his first full season. He later coached the Brooklyn Nets.
He has some challenges leading up to his first season with Alabama. The Tide is picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference with a 12-man team that includes only five upperclassmen, led by guard Retin Obasohan and forward Shannon Hale.
Johnson takes over a program that has struggled to make the NCAA tournament and draw big crowds. Alabama officials say there has been a 10 percent increase in season ticket sales over last season.
Alabama fans would welcome a similar spike in scoring. The Tide ranked ninth in the SEC last season, averaging 66.7 points a game while making the NIT.
Johnson’s expectations for what fans will see in the opener indicates that plodding style will change.
“Hopefully, it’ll be fast and furious,” Johnson said.
Obasohan said Johnson has brought a different offensive philosophy to the team.
“The first great shot that we have, we’re looking to take,” the guard said. “The first great play we can make, we’re looking to make. Coach is very adamant of scoring in the first five seconds, just making sure that we play, go out there and make good decisions.”
Obasohan also can’t help but notice the added interest and promotion of Johnson around town and campus.
“Coach Johnson’s face is everywhere,” he said. “I went to a restaurant and I looked to the left and there was a picture of coach Johnson.
“The excitement has been there. The buzz is there. As a player and as a regular citizen in this community, you can really tell.”