The Three In-State Seniors Who Changed Alabama Basketball
As the final seconds of overtime ticked down in the UCLA vs Alabama Sweet 16's matchup Sunday night, the outcome had become all too clear.
Alabama began to resort to fouling the Bruins to get possessions back, and with every made free throw, Alabama players, coaches, and fans alike became emotional, realizing the wild ride that was the 2020-2021 season was about to end.
For three Alabama seniors however, this loss signaled something more than an end of a season- it signaled the end of a proud crimson career.
Since their signings in 2017, Herb Jones, John Petty Jr., and Alex Reese have been household names for Alabama basketball fans. Together, the three created the foundation the Alabama basketball program has built its recent success upon. Even after low points in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons and with transfer opportunities available, the three stayed and committed to establishing a championship-level program.
“These seniors, you think about Petty, Reese, Jones, what they've meant to the program,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said in his post game press conference. “They didn't have to stick around and be coached by a guy that didn't recruit them. They didn't have to buy into everything we were trying to sell. They did.”
Despite the way it ended, this season will no doubt be remembered as legendary in the minds of Crimson Tide faithful. It should also be remembered as a fitting bookend for three incredible Alabama basketball careers.
All three of the in-state seniors had hero moments this season, reaching new heights in their playing abilities on the way to guiding Alabama to SEC regular season and tournament championship titles, as well as the school’s ninth Sweet 16 appearance.
For Jones, the star forward was the talk of the SEC in 2021 for his outstanding defensive play. The Greensboro native not only earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors but SEC Player of the Year Honors as well.
The Naismith Trophy Finalist led the Crimson Tide in seven statistical categories including assists, blocks, and steals. His play has earned him national recognition, and he is widely considered to be a sought-after NBA prospect when the draft rolls around later this year.
Petty, a Huntsville native, helped establish Alabama as an elite three-point shooting team. No team in the entire country made or attempted more threes in 2021 than the Crimson Tide, and Petty led the team with 75 of them.
He broke the all-time career Alabama 3-point record against Arkansas in the regular season, and went 8-10 from beyond the arc against LSU to help Alabama shatter the program and SEC record for threes made in a game with 23. Even when in a shooting slump, Petty isn’t afraid to race down court to slap a ball off a backboard, winning Oat’s Blue Collar player of the Game on several occasions.
“I feel like mostly what I'm going to remember most is just the bond we shared,” Petty said in his postgame press conference. “Just all the memories that we had, and just how hard we fought for each other. I mean, throughout the season, if it was one man down, the next man up, and everybody had each other's backs. I feel like that's what I'll remember the most.”
Although not always the star of the show, Reese contributed at key times throughout the season with his biggest shot coming at the end of regulation Sunday night. With only a couple seconds left on the clock, the Pelham native drained a 3-point shot before the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
“Reese had been one of the guys making big shots at the end of close games for us last year,” said Oats. “ I think he's got it in him. There's a reason he was in the game at the end.”
Although the ending didn’t go Alabama’s way, Reese will be associated with his clutch 3-point abilities this season for all of Alabama basketball history. His ability to make momentum shifting plays against teams like LSU in the SEC championship and other key times in the regular season provided invaluable support on a team that will be remembered for suffocating defense and red hot shooting from beyond the arc.
Even with the trio leaving the Alabama basketball program, their play and accomplishments will far outlast any sting a postseason loss can create. As players like No. 1 nationally-ranked point guard prospect JD Davison begin to spurn out-of-state programs for the high-profile opportunities at Alabama, it means this team did much more for the program than win the SEC.
"I'll remember it as the team that changed the entire culture of Alabama basketball,” Oats said. “Expectation levels are drastically different. Recruiting is different. People want to come here and play for Alabama basketball. People think about Alabama basketball way different.”
With the offseason ahead for the Crimson Tide, fans will wait in high anticipation as the expectations in Tuscaloosa continue to get higher. How could it not be, with breakout players like Jahvon Quinerly, Keon Ellis, Juwan Gary, Jaden Shackelford and Josh Primo returning to the hardwood in addition to a stacked recruiting class.
Although Jones, Petty and Reese are irreplaceable to Alabama basketball, One thing is for certain- thanks to the contributions of this senior class, the future is bright in Tuscaloosa.