After weeks of nervousness, Alabama basketball fans can now breathe a little easier.
That’s because forward Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Tuscaloosa for his sophomore season.
— Alabama M Basketball (@AlabamaMBB) May 23, 2017
Key was Alabama’s leading scorer last season in averaging 12 points per game. He was also the team’s second-leading rebounder with 5.7 rebounds per contest.
There was growing speculation last week that Key would either stay in the NBA draft or transfer elsewhere.
That speculation was, of course, nothing more than anxious fans expecting the worst.
This was always the move that made the most sense for Key. There are still parts of his game that need to be developed, and going through the NBA draft process allowed him to gain a better understanding of which areas needed the most work.
But there’s another significant reason that this move made the most sense: Alabama’s head coach is Avery Johnson.
Why wouldn’t you want to get another year of coaching from a former NBA Coach of the Year that played for 16 years and won a world championship?
Those accolades make Johnson’s appeal easy to understand. If your goal is to get to the NBA, playing for Johnson is a no-brainer because he’s already been there. He’s been through the process and knows what it takes to succeed at the next level.
That’s why Collin Sexton wants to play for him. That’s why the rest of the Top 10 recruiting class – currently No. 6 – wants to play for him.
And it’s exactly why Key wants to play for him for at least another season.
Key’s progress throughout the 2016-17 season showed that he can make it to the NBA. This upcoming season will give him an opportunity to fine-tune his game even more, and considering the supporting cast that he’ll have around him, that development process should be an exciting one to watch.
I said in my early SEC basketball preview that the Crimson Tide were currently my No. 3 team in the league. I also said that if Key returned, Alabama would be a preseason Top 20 team.
But don’t view those numbers as set in stone. Johnson’s squad has the pieces in place to rise higher in both of those rankings.
This is no longer a team that’ll be defined only by its gritty efforts on the defensive end of the floor. There are now playmakers, shooters, defenders, and everything else that you need to be a true national contender.
And with Key back in that mix, Alabama fans should be ready for one highly-entertaining ride come November.
Buckle up, indeed.