Whenever a new coach takes over a college program, the first question to answer is whether he can recruit.
It will take a couple of years to find out whether Avery Johnson will win consistently at Alabama, but the first question — recruiting — appears to be answered in the affirmative.
Per 247 Sports, Johnson’s first full recruiting class on the Capstone is ranked 49th nationally and 8th in the SEC — but those rankings are mostly a function of the class only consisting of two players. (Johnson has also added some transfers to the program; we’ll eventually get around to those who will be eligible in 2016-17.) If we look at talent, only Kentucky’s recruiting class has a higher average rating than Alabama’s.
The big get in the 2016 recruiting class was Braxton Key, a 6’8”, 240-pound forward out of Nashville, Tennessee, by way of Oak Hill Academy. Prior to his senior year, Key went by the name Braxton Blackwell and played at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville. 247 Sports rated him as a four-star recruit and the #57 prospect nationally, and the #9 small forward. Rivals rated him as a four-star recruit and the #64 prospect in the country. ESPN ranked him #33 nationally and likewise tabbed him as a four-star recruit. Key chose the Tide over offers from Texas, Kansas, and his hometown Commodores, among others.
Here is a highlight film of Key:
How does he fit on the roster? That’s the open question, and while you can’t really question Avery Johnson’s recruiting chops — Key doesn’t really fill a glaring need on Alabama’s roster. The Tide have Memphis transfer Nick King — formerly a four-star recruit himself — eligible this season, and he plays the same position as Key. There’s also Shannon Hale and Riley Norris, both part-time starters last season, and also both former four-star recruits.
In other words, Alabama’s depth and talent at the forward spots mean that you can’t exactly pencil Key in as a starter here. His talent would seem to dictate that he will get playing time, and his ability to play both forward spots (and possibly even fill in at center if needed) should make him a valuable backup at the very least. But Alabama simply has too many 6’7” or 6’8” guys with some athleticism and skill to assume that the least experienced player in that group will see significant minutes.
With that said — considering Key’s athleticism and skill, if he’s not starting, that may actually be a good thing for Alabama. That would mean that players like King, Hale, and Norris have stepped up their games enough to hold him off.