By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Avery Johnson and his wife went to watch one of his former NBA teams play recently and couldn’t help but think Collin Sexton would fit right in at the next level.
Now, Alabama’s fleet-footed freshman point guard is aiming to prove them right after helping deliver the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Tournament in his lone season.
Sexton announced Friday he will enter the NBA draft and that he plans to hire an agent. A projected lottery pick, he led Alabama to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2012, thanks partly to a personal hot streak in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
“I think in some of his individual workouts, he’s going to blow some of these general managers and coaches away,” said Johnson, a former NBA point guard and coach who played for San Antonio. “His style fits.
“I went to a game last week at the Final Four and the Spurs played against Oklahoma. And my wife and I looked at each other and we said, ‘Collin can play in this game.’ His style of play, his speed, it translates to the NBA.”
Sexton arrived as Alabama’s most highly touted recruit in recent memory, a consensus top 10 prospect out of Mableton, Georgia. He was the SEC’s No. 2 scorer, averaging 19.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was also tied for fifth with an average of 4.5 assists.
NBA scouts flocked to Alabama games in greater numbers than usual. Now Sexton says he’s going to “bring confidence, leadership and a will to win” to the league.
“On the court as well as off the court, I’m going to do everything that’s right and try to lead by example,” Sexton said.
He would be Alabama’s first draft pick since Richard Hendrix was selected in the second round in 2008. The Tide hasn’t had a first-rounder since Gerald Wallace was picked by 25th overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2001.
Flanked by teammates when making the announcement, Sexton said he plans to remain in school this semester. He’s working out daily with football strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran and ex-Tide football players for some 90 minutes.
And still going to class. His siblings have degrees “so I feel like I have to get mine. I can’t be left out.”
“His goal is to continue to get straight A’s,” Johnson said.
Outside the classroom, Sexton’s goal is to follow in the steps of some of the NBA players he hopes to emulate, like Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Allen Iverson “because of the heart he played with and that’s how I play the game every time I’m on the court.”
Johnson said Westbrook is a fair comparison for Sexton. The Tide star’s speed stands out even to a guy who played 16 years in the NBA and spent six-plus seasons as a head coach.
“I’ve said all along out of all the guys I’ve coached in the league, played against in the league, he was arguably the fastest guy I’ve seen with and without the basketball,” Johnson said. “That’s a strong statement.
“But he’s got a lot of room to grow. He’s going to get better.”
Sexton began and ended his Alabama career on a low note but mostly created highlights in between.
He was held out of the first game thanks to a one-game suspension / by the NCAA related to a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. Sexton finished on the bench after drawing a late technical foul in an 81-58 loss to eventual champion Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sexton scored 40 points against Minnesota in just his fourth game — when he was one of three Tide players available to finish it out because of ejections and injuries — and also held his own against Oklahoma’s own star freshman, Trae Young, in an Alabama victory .
With Alabama’s NCAA hopes on the line, Sexton delivered in the SEC Tournament. He had 27 points and drove the length of the floor for a game-winning floater at the buzzer against Texas A&M.
Sexton also came up big again in the NCAA’s first round. He scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half of a win over Virginia Tech for his fifth straight game with 20-plus points.
He set the NBA goal early in life, rising early to work on his dexterity with the ball or his shooting form or to hit the track with father Darnell. Darnell Sexton said his son once asked for an alarm clock for Christmas so he could get to work and predicted his future career when he was 4 or 5 years old.
“One day after church, he said, ‘God told me I’m going to have an opportunity to play in the league someday,'” Darnell Sexton said.
More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events