Mickles: For affable Avery Johnson, life is all about timing _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER McCLELLAND -- Former Southern University and NBA player Avery Johnson addresses the crowd in the F.G. Clark Activity Center on Feb. 2, 2013 for the ceremonial naming of 'Avery Johnson Court.' Johnson, who was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday, will begin his first season as Alabama's coach.

NATCHITOCHES — Upon being fired by the Brooklyn Nets two days after Christmas in 2012, Avery Johnson knew one thing: He was going to coach basketball again.

He just didn’t know where or when.

Actually, he sort of knew the when part of the equation.

With son Avery Jr. entering the final year and a half of his high school career in the Dallas area, Johnson was going to take some time to take it all in.

“I didn’t want to coach that first season (2013-14) because he was going to be a senior,” Johnson said Saturday before his induction into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. “Last year, I wanted to be there for him in the transition to college, and actually, I wanted to see some college games.”

Johnson accomplished those two things, and when the University of Alabama called about a week after his 50th birthday, he jumped at the opportunity to get out of the ESPN studio and back onto the court.

“At some point last season, I knew I wanted to get back into coaching,” he said. “Whether it was the NBA or college, if the right situation presented itself I was going to take a look at it. Alabama called, and the rest is history.”

If you think it couldn’t have worked out any better, it may have.

If Johnson hadn’t been hired by Alabama in early April, he might have been a candidate to become the head coach of his hometown New Orleans Pelicans.

But there’s no time to think about that now after getting a late start on what is his first college job, which comes after the former Southern University star played 16 NBA seasons and worked as a head coach for seven more.

“It’s all about timing,” a smiling Johnson told a well-wisher who asked him about the Pelicans job Saturday.

In this case, the timing was even better than he could have hoped.

With his move to Tuscaloosa, Johnson was able to get his son to transfer from Texas A&M with the blessing of Aggies coach Billy Kennedy. After a redshirt season, Avery Jr. will play for his dad starting with the 2016-17 season.

Before that can happen, Johnson knows he has much work to do at Alabama after Anthony Grant was dismissed.

While his heart may have still been in the NBA, the Alabama job intrigued him, Johnson said, in part because of a roster of Southeastern Conference coaches that last year included John Calipari, Kevin Stallings, Bruce Pearl, Mike Anderson and a longtime friend, Johnny Jones, and this season adds Ben Howland and Rick Barnes.

“That was very appealing for me because I know a lot of those guys and have admired them from afar,” Johnson said. “I knew going there I’d also have a chance to impact the lives of students because they’re students before they’re athletes.”

As far as Johnson was concerned, there was only person that he had to confer with to accept the job — Cassandra, his wife of 24 years.

“She was excited about it,” Johnson said.

While some think the most challenging part of coaching in college for the first time may be recruiting, the personable Johnson doesn’t see that as a problem.

Because he has a son that played AAU basketball and was recruited by Texas A&M and Maryland, among others, Johnson has a pretty good idea of how things work.

“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches on the recruiting trail and I’m very familiar with the recruiting process,” he said. “I have a daughter that graduated from an Ivy League school, so I’m familiar with the academics part of it. I’ve also spent a lot of time on the Texas A&M campus the last couple of years.”

Actually, Johnson admits the biggest change from NBA coaching will be in what he has to do to get the program on track, even though Alabama did earn an NIT berth last season.

“You have to spend a lot of time doing fundraisers and making a lot of speeches,” Johnson said, “but again, that all fits my personality.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s getting to be a real deep conference. The SEC sent five teams to the NCAA tournament last season. Hopefully, we can get it to six.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.