The Pride of the Crimson Tide, a Scouting Trip Home
The word "home" comes from the Proto-Germanic “khaim,” which differed from the meaning of "house" in those times as it does today. The khaim, or ham, as it traveled into Old English, meant a residence as opposed to simply a shelter. Throughout my fifteen year journey of working in the NBA, I've been fortunate to call many places home. The definition of home for me, in this instance, is both a mental and physical state of mind.
Having recently joined the Babcock Hoops team, I've been able to go home in more ways than one. I recently traveled to scout a game in my hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where my basketball journey began. Let me tell you about it.
It’s been nearly twenty years since I attended The University of Alabama, and although the school has dramatically changed, I had a familiar feeling once I stepped foot back on campus. I was in town to scout Alabama’s star point guard, Kira Lewis Jr., who is currently slotted as the 25th pick in the Babcock Hoops 2020 NBA Mock Draft. Despite being in town for work, I couldn’t help myself from thinking of all the great memories from my time as a student-athlete at “The Capstone.” I thought about our game days; there was always a level of excitement, and anticipation of what potential memorable performance was going to occur that night. I felt that same way all over again. It was a great feeling, and needless to say, I was excited to be home!
Athletes are often creatures of habit, tending to keep the same routines on game days because of various superstitions. I was definitely that way when I was a player. After I finished my last class of the day, our team would meet up for a pre-game meal at Bryant Hall, a dining facility solely designated for basketball and football players at that time. There, we began to mentally focus on the scouting report of the opponent we would be facing that night. We had discussions about the opponent's roster composition, their offensive and defensive tendencies, and what we would have to do to be victorious. The preparation for a game generated a feeling for me that is unmatched by anything I’ve ever experienced before. A perfectly blended mixture of nervousness, excitement, and rage would flow through my body. I recall walking from Bryce Lawn Apartments to the arena with my CD player playing the same pre-game song over and over.
As I arrived at Coleman Coliseum for that night’s game, so many fond memories came rushing into my mind. There was electricity in the air that was reminiscent of when I was there as a player. Having grown up in Tuscaloosa, I was incredibly proud each time I was able to put on my Crimson Tide uniform that had #20 and Martin across the back. I remember walking out of the locker room, goosebumps covering my skin as I heard the band play the school fight song, “Crimson Tide, Roll Tide, Roll Tide!”, and the roaring crowd awaiting our entrance through the tunnel.
I tried to snap out of my daydreaming and attempted to blend in to quickly get to my seat, as I had a job to do. However, I was then stopped by an Alabama fan that wanted to revisit one of my most epic moments as a player.
As a sophomore in 1999, I was playing behind Brian Williams, a former Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama. We were scheduled to play the 5th ranked Kentucky Wildcats, but due to a foot injury he suffered in the previous game versus Arkansas, Brian wasn’t able to suit up that night, giving me a big opportunity to step up for my team. Going into that game, Alabama hadn't beaten Kentucky in eight years; but on this day, the basketball gods were Crimson Tide fans. We defeated the Wildcats 62-58, and I scored 20 points and had 7 rebounds. In his postgame interview, Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith said he didn’t even put me on their scouting report, but he would be sure to do so going forward. For a moment, I felt slightly disrespected, but the natural high I was on wouldn’t allow that feeling to last long. It was a great night for my teammates and me, but most importantly, a statement win for our basketball program.
The University of Alabama has seen many great players come through the program, including former NBA players Robert Horry, Antonio McDyess, Latrell Sprewell, Mo Williams, and current NBA player Collin Sexton, just to name a few. I was fortunate to go into battle with some great players myself while I was there. My former teammates, Erwin Dudley and Gerald Wallace will certainly be linked to the university forever. The current point guard of the team, Kira Lewis Jr., has the potential to join the elite group of players that have come before him. Lewis Jr., a sophomore, is averaging 17.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on the season. He is the only player in the SEC, one of three in power five programs, and only one of ten throughout the nation to average at least 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.
After reminiscing for a while, the game had started, and Lewis Jr.’s elite-level north/south speed stood out immediately. He reminded me of a running back, waiting for the right time to hit an open gap the moment it presented itself. He was under control and had an excellent low center of gravity. He could turn the corner on most big men if they weren’t ready to guard or if they were a step too late on a hard hedge. To simplify things, he gets to where he wants to on the court with the ball in his hands.
Despite possessing a slight, wiry frame, Lewis Jr. has decent strength. He's a capable finisher around the basket, utilizing a combination of avoiding contact and finishing with floaters. At 38% from behind the three-point line, I think he will be a threat from outside, as he has solid mechanics, footwork, and fluid shooting motion. Although he is a capable shooter, I see him leaning mostly on his mid-range game and his ability to attack his defender downhill. His playmaking is perhaps largely a product of the system Alabama runs versus his ability to read the floor, but he does a good job of taking care of the ball and his speed is undeniable.
On the defensive end, Lewis Jr. may have some growing pains early on in the NBA as he is physically frail. He needs to add some bulk to his frame because being routinely popped by screens by the giants of the NBA will take a toll over an 82 game season. Despite the concerns, he has good lateral quickness, length, and appeared to be a willing defender, caring if his man scored on him. He also showed flashes of being able to make himself small, sneaking over ball screens, which will help him. On one play, he was hit with a tough screen but didn't give up; he continued to make an effort to cut off the dribbler and was active and aggressive with the communicated switch. He showed promise as a defender.
When it was all said and done, the Crimson Tide were able to pull out a win that night over South Carolina, and Lewis Jr. was very impressive, scoring 25 points, dishing out 6 assists, and making 2 steals, leading me to draw comparisons to former NBA player Darren Collison.
I certainly had a great time returning home, taking a walk down memory lane, and evaluating Kira Lewis Jr., who has proved to me that he will soon be added to the long list of NBA players to come through our beloved Alabama program. I’m proud to be a part of the Crimson Tide family and also be able to say that Kira is one of our own.