- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Avery Johnson envisions leading Alabama basketball deeper into the NCAA Tournament than it’s ever been and ambitiously chooses five-time national champion Duke as his model program.

Johnson, who was formally introduced as the Crimson Tide’s coach on Wednesday, fully embraces the prospect of coaching at a school which boasts arguably college football’s equivalent of Duke hoops. He met with football coach Nick Saban - ‘Bama’s version of Coach K - for about 30 minutes before taking the podium.

“Coach Saban, with his personality and all his success, that doesn’t scare me,” said Johnson, a close friend of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. “It’s like a magnet for me. I’ve had my own success. I’ve gone places a lot of coaches haven’t gone before and I have my own personality. With a guy like coach Saban, that was one of the things that attracted me to the University of Alabama.

“I was going to get interviewed by some other power 5 conferences that didn’t have the program like the University of Alabama. I think it’s a huge plus.”

Johnson, 50, takes over a hoops program that’s been to the NCAA Tournament only once since 2004 after a couple of years out of coaching. The 16-year NBA player received a six-year contract worth about $2.8 million annually, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Alabama doesn’t release contract details until they’re approved by the trustees’ compensation committee.

His former coach at Southern, Ben Jobe, was on hand, along with onetime Tide coaches Wimp Sanderson and C.M. Newton. Jobe recalled his former player setting up tutoring programs, collecting food for the needy and starting a Big Brother program at Southern, then paying for seven or eight kids to attend the university.

“He established so many things students don’t even think about,” Jobe said. “Those things are still in place.”

Johnson said he had “a burning desire” to get back into coaching and make his first foray into the college ranks after attending most of his son Avery Jr.’s games last season at Texas A&M.; Athletic director Bill Battle gave him that chance.

Johnson, who also was coaching the Nets when they moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, led the Mavericks to their first NBA Finals in his debut season in 2006 after getting promoted from assistant. He had a ready answer then when people asked him how long it would take to win.

“I said, ‘Hey, if we don’t make it to the NBA Finals in the first three years, I need to be fired,’” Johnson recalled. “And we did, and that was a great accomplishment. I’m not going to give you a bold statement like that, because I’ve got to get my arms around this thing.”

However, he said earlier, “Even though coach Battle blessed me with a six-year contract, it’s not going to take that long.”

First things first. Johnson planned to meet with each individual Tide player on Wednesday and has to get a handle on recruiting for the first time. He planned to fly around the state visiting prospects on Thursday with assistant Antoine Pettway, a former Tide point guard.

Ultimately, he’s hoping to land deeper in the tournament than Alabama has ever been.

“For us here at the University of Alabama, I wouldn’t have taken this job if we couldn’t make it to the Final Four,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t see they have a vision of how we can get to the Final Four and have an opportunity to win a championship.

“Duke University, that’s the standard for us here at the University of Alabama and our basketball program. The way they play defense and offense, the way they move the ball, that’s the standard. Nobody else is the standard.”

Battle, who initially targeted Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, wound up visiting Johnson’s Dallas home and being sold.

“After a few hours, he convinced me he belonged in college basketball and I convinced him he belonged at the University of Alabama,” Battle said.


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