PITTSBURGH – Children are always the toughest critics of their father.
Did Avery Johnson Jr. believe that his father could do it so fast? Did you think your outbursts could make a football power ball relevant in three years?
"Honestly, it was much faster than I thought," Johnson Jr. said after Alabama's 86-83 win against Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, "but he always had the vision" .
Even your own son had doubts, but it's time to stop questioning Avery Johnson in Alabama.
Alabama hired Johnson three years ago to make Alabama basketball important On Thursday night, the veteran NBA coach fulfilled his part of that deal. Alabama 86, Virginia Tech 83 was Alabama's first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 2006.
Collin Sexton was seven years old at the time.
With Sexton as its centerpiece, Johnson hired the SEC to win a place in the NCAA Tournament, after Alabama returned to Big Dance for the first time since 2012, Johnson beat Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams to deliver a surprise and advance to the second round.
Williams undid under pressure here in Pittsburgh when he picked up a technical foul in the last minute of the game. It came after Alabama freshman Herbert Jones beat out Virginia Tech's best player, youth guard Justin Robinson, and committed a foul on the line.
It was a beautiful basketball game, and so unexpected at that moment in the game The Virginia Tech coach could not believe it. He threw a towel in disbelief.
"I should not have had the towel in my hand," Williams said. "I think that made it look worse, I thought it was a block."
It was not like that.
Johnson had Jones in the game for his defense, and Jones delivered. Checkmate Avery. Ballgame Bama.
And what game was: 10 leader changes and 10 draws. Virginia Tech pitched 68 percent from the field in the first half (7 of 9 from the 3-point range), and Alabama responded, throwing 60.9 percent from the field in the second half.
"I'm really proud of our team," Johnson said. "This is a new season for us, and a new opportunity."
This was Jones' third consecutive start since Alabama destroyed Auburn in the SEC Tournament, and did three things for Alabama. One, it gave Alabama the defensive advantage it needed against a tough guard. Two, it took some pressure off Sexton, and allowed him to conserve his energy for offense. Finally, he allowed the escort John Petty out of the bench.
– Sexton had a masterful second half after a slow start, scoring 22 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. .
– Jones helped limit Virginia Tech's Robinson to seven points.
– Petty scored 20 points from the bench. A lined shooter who had problems on the road this season, Petty drilled his first three triples and finished 6 of 8 from beyond the arc. He tied it for the most brands from deep in the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Sexton, Jones and Petty, the three freshmen who helped rebuild Alabama basketball. Regardless of what happens next, that is important. That means something.
"Growing up, I just wanted to change the culture in Alabama," said Jones, who is from Greensboro. "I know it's a football school, but I wanted to show the kids that they did not have to leave the state or leave the region to go to a good basketball program."
Jones was originally committed to the UAB. He believed in what Johnson was doing in Alabama and went there instead.
"We went out and tried to get through all the recruits, and many of these guys who are in our squad tonight, we got to the trenches with them early" some, like Collin Sexton, of whom nobody found out before offering him "Johnson said
Johnson beat Kentucky by Sexton and Petty, which gave Alabama its best recruiting clbad in the history of the school, but there were still skeptics.
" People doubted it and said It would take five years like other programs, but it always said the third year: not to win everything, but to take the next step, "said Johnson Jr.
] And now Alabama is in a position to jump a building with only one limit On Saturday, Alabama, of nine seeds, plays against Villanova No.1 for a spot on the Sweet 16. Beat & # 39; Nova, and Alabama basketball will become a supernova during the night.
Alabama could have the best shipowner in the country, but Villanova seems like if I had the best team in the country.
"Villanova, what can you say?" Johnson said. "Outstanding team, championship pedigree, they have problems in all positions, Jay Wright has done an incredible job, he has had one of the best coaching positions of anyone in the country, they know what they are doing."
Well from Alabama, however, when we play well, we will have the opportunity to beat anyone. "
Three years ago, very few people imagined it.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.