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Avery Johnson stirring up excitement for Alabama debut season, but Tide still picked low


TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Avery Johnson has created some excitement around Alabama's program, making inroads on the recruiting trail and drawing a big crowd to a preseason event.

The first-year Crimson Tide coach might take longer to turn that buzz into wins but guard Retin Obasohan is enjoying the change.

"Gosh, it's electrifying," Obasohan said. "You can feel it. You can sense it. It's like an aura that's in the air. Everywhere you go, you've got people whispering. They think you can't hear it, but we can hear everything they're saying."

Much of that attention is because of the splashy hiring of Johnson, a former NBA coach of the year and longtime San Antonio Spurs point guard who replaced the fired Anthony Grant.

His catch phrase has been "buckle up." But the ride could be bumpy at times during his first season.

As Johnson said: "It's not going to happen overnight."

The Tide has been picked to finish 13th in the 14-team league.

Johnson must replace the top three scorers from last year's team that advanced to the second round of the NIT, including team captain Levi Randolph.

That means big roles for some of the five newcomers — not counting two transfers who have to sit out the season — and increased expectations for returnees like forwards Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor and point guard Justin Coleman.

The athletic but inconsistent Hale is the top returning scorer after averaging 8.2 points a game before missing the final six games with a broken foot.

"I think this is the best I've felt in two years," Hale said. "I've been rehabbing all summer. I'm just getting back to myself. It's been going great."

Johnson did wrap up a solid recruiting class after his hiring, especially within Alabama. He brought in Mr. Basketball guard Dazon Ingram, along with forward Donta Hall and guard Brandon Austin, and has begun the makings of another strong class.

Graduate transfer Arthur Edwards, a reserve with New Mexico, also joins the team.

Here are some things to know about Alabama's team in 2015-16.

FAN SUPPORT: Nearly 7,500 fans showed up for Tide Tipoff, an event promoting the men's and women's teams Tuesday night that featured 3-point shooting and dunk contests and a performance by hip hop artist Rae Sremmurd. By comparison, fewer than 2,500 fans showed up for Alabama's opening round NIT game against Illinois.

TEMPO: Johnson has geared practices toward speeding up the playing tempo for a team that averaged just 63.2 points per game in SEC play. "That transformation has been tough in a lot of ways because they're playing faster more consistently than they ever have," he said.

TAYLOR'S ROLE: Johnson had high praise for the 6-foot-10 Taylor, whose 59 blocked shots were the most by an Alabama player since Jamychal Green in 2010-11. He's the only returning player who started all 34 games last season, averaging 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. "Jimmie's gotten better at all facets of the game," Johnson said. "We're looking for him to have a much better year than averaging five points a game. We're going to lean on him a lot this year."

MISSING SCORING: Replacing the versatile Randolph won't be easy. He led the team in scoring and assists and was second in rebounding. But he, Ricky Tarrant and Rodney Cooper combined to average nearly 40 points a game for a team that struggled offensively.

RETIN'S RETURN: Obasohan finished last season as one of Alabama's hottest players after replacing an injured Tarrant. He scored in double figures only once in his first 20 games then averaged 12.2 points per game over the final 14.

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