With 4.4 seconds remaining in a second-round Southeastern Conference Tournament game last March, Alabama trailed Texas A&M 70-69. Everyone in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis—every fan, player, coach, writer and broadcaster, knew the deal. Those scant few seconds, 94 feet of court, and one more basket stood between the Crimson Tide and an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Just as evident was how Alabama was going to try and negotiate the length of the court, score that basket and steal away with a victory. The in-bounds pass was going to Collin Sexton, the 6-3 freshman his coach, former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson, calls “the fastest guy I’ve ever seen with the basketball, going from one end to the other.”
Sexton took the inbounds pass at about the SEC logo, just inside Texas A&M’s free-throw line, and quickly raced up the sideline, in front of the scorer’s table. With 2.4 seconds left, he abruptly changed course and headed for the center of the court. Sexton reached his own free-throw line with 1.2 seconds to play and quickly launched a high-arching scoop shot that eluded Aggie defenders and dropped into the net as the final buzzer sounded. Alabama 71, Texas A&M 70.
Sexton quickly disappeared as his teammates mobbed him. The Young Bull had done it again.
A day later, Sexton scored 31 points as Alabama dispatched archrival Auburn in the quarterfinals, further cementing that NCAA bid. Alabama’s SEC tournament run ended in the semifinals as Kentucky won handily, but Sexton accounted for 21 points. His three-game handiwork saved the Tide’s upcoming NCAA tournament opponents the trouble of pouring through a season’s worth of game film. If they wanted to see what Alabama was all about, and how Sexton fit into the equation, the SEC tournament summed it up in a nice little package.
Little wonder Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams, whose team would play and lose to Alabama in the NCAA first round, said Sexton’s “talent is semi other-worldly,” or that Villanova coach Jay Wright, in previewing a second-round matchup against the Tide, said Sexton “could be the most dynamic guard we’ve played all year.”
In a few days, Sexton, a certain lottery pick, will be taking his talents to the NBA. Alabama assistant coach Yasir Rosemond, who started recruiting Georgia native Sexton when he was an assistant at the University of Georgia and knows him as well as anyone, thinks he has a read on how Sexton will fare at the next level.
“Low end, and this is no disrespect, he can be an Eric Bledsoe type, because he has that kind of speed and athleticism,” Rosemond says. “His ceiling? I think his ceiling could be a Russell Westbrook.”
Rosemond isn’t suggesting Sexton will become a triple-double machine like the Oklahoma City superstar. But with his insider’s knowledge of Sexton’s game, he can envision how it will progress in the NBA.
“Early on, he’ll be a better defender than some people think,” Rosemond says. “He’ll be a better passer than a lot of people think. He can really pass the ball. We put him in situations because we needed him to score. But he likes to pass. He’s a really determined scorer, and that was great for us. But it made people wonder, ‘can he play point guard?’ I’m saying he can. You look at the NBA. How many point guards up there can’t score?”
Sexton has other attributes that will set him apart. Start with his intelligence. He made just one B in high school—the rest were A’s—and in his first semester of college, his grade point average was 4.0 and he earned a spot on Alabama’s President’s List. Despite having to travel the workout circuit in the run-up to the draft, he enrolled in what Alabama calls the May-mester, so he could keep working on earning his degree.
Then there’s Sexton’s toughness. He demonstrated that in spectacular fashion the night last November that Alabama, its roster reduced by ejections, foul disqualifications and an injury, had to play the final 10:41 against Minnesota with three players. With 1:32 to play, Alabama trailed the Golden Gophers, then ranked No. 14 in the nation, 83-80. That’s because Sexton wouldn’t give up. He finished the game with 40 points and earned some admirers.
“Collin Sexton could be a single team just by himself,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s that good.”
Dwayne Wade took to Twitter to enthuse, “Nothing but heart. I love the way he attacks the game.”
Sexton stays stuck in attack mode, thus his nickname the Young Bull.
“I coached Aaron Brooks at Oregon,” Rosemond says. “Aaron was fast, very fast. But Collin, in the open floor, his speed is ridiculous. He gets to where he needs to go fast. And he’s a strong, powerful guy. I would never put that kind of pressure on him, but he’s got some Westbrook-type ability.”
Johnson seconded that opinion in an interview on TNT. Asked to compare Sexton to a current NBA player, Johnson couldn’t single out just one. Nor could he contain his comparison to the present-day NBA.
He’s a combination of guys,” Johnson said. “From a basketball IQ side, [Rajon] Rondo. He’s got that speed and athleticism that Kevin Johnson or Westbrook has in the lane. Isiah Thomas—I’m talking about the Detroit Pistons’ Isiah Thomas—that grit, midrange, shoots the 3. He’s got the tricks inside the paint. And the toughness.
“If he plays against Westbrook and Chris Paul on back-to-back nights, there’s not really going to be any fear. He’s really going to think he’s the best player on the floor.”
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