ST. LOUIS — From just about the first dribble of the college basketball season onward, Trae Young was America’s star point guard.
But now it’s March, and Collin Sexton would like a recount.
It’s March, and Sexton is taking over the Southeastern Conference tournament. Maybe the entire world.
It’s March, and Sexton has saved Alabama’s season with a breathtaking drive Thursday and a ridiculous second half Friday.
It’s March, and Sexton’s team is likely in the NCAA tournament while Young’s Oklahoma team will have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
And when June rolls around, Sexton might still be ahead of Young when it comes time for the NBA draft. Just ask Avery Johnson Jr., Alabama’s backup point guard and the son of coach Avery Johnson.
“If I’m drafting, I’m taking Collin over Trae Young every day of the week,” Johnson Jr. said. “Monday through Sunday. And if there’s an eighth day of the week, I’d take him then, too.”
Johnson gave that assessment in a jubilant Alabama locker room after the Crimson Tide blitzed regular-season SEC co-champion and tourney No. 1 seed Auburn, 81-63. ‘Bama trailed by 10 at halftime, then unleashed a Sexton-led barrage that absolutely buckled the Tigers and likely rearranged the NCAA bracket.
Alabama is probably in, and some fellow bubble dweller (Louisville, Notre Dame, Oklahoma?) is now probably out. And if Alabama is in, Sexton becomes a must-watch next week – for fans and NBA personnel alike.
The freshman has electrified ScottTrade Center, scoring 58 points in do-or-die victories over Texas A&M and Auburn. The last two points Thursday came on an end-to-end drive that Sexton finished by leaping off his wrong foot and finger rolling the ball into the basket just ahead of the buzzer to beat the Aggies. That was the most dramatic play of the college basketball postseason to date, but it was just a warmup for what Sexton did in the second half Friday.
He hit a 3-pointer 75 seconds after intermission. He hit another one 60 seconds later. He added a third 63 seconds after the second. The last of those tied the game at 42. Alabama took the lead less than a minute later and would not relinquish it in what ultimately was a blowout 81-63 victory.
But he wasn’t done there. Midway through the half, Sexton dropped a fourth three, added two foul shots, and then had his highlight moment of the day: he came streaking across mid-court leading the break, went behind his back with the ball on the fly and delivered a pass to trailing Donta Hall for a thunderous dunk.
“[Hall] told me at half-court he’s coming,” Sexton said. “So I’m going to find a way to give it to him, reward him for running.”
The reward for recruiting Sexton figures to be Alabama’s first NCAA bid since 2012. But the fact that a team with this much talent was outside the field of 68 coming here hints at the level of youth and inconsistency Johnson has been dealing with. For most of the season, the Tide significantly underachieved.
Alabama staggered into St. Louis on a five-game losing streak, having drop-kicked a seemingly secure NCAA status in the final two weeks of the regular season. Part of the reason for that slide was the disappearance of Sexton’s shooting stroke; he was 2-for-17 from 3-point range in those five losses. But being west of the Mississippi River has restored his accuracy.
Sexton made 3 of 6 beyond the arc against Texas A&M, and 6 of 8 against Auburn. Given his blazing quickness driving the ball, a reliable outside shot basically makes him illegal.
“When he’s on,” said Johnson Jr., “there’s nobody in the country who can stop him.”
Said junior reserve guard Lawson Schaffer: “The rims look like the ocean when he’s going.”
Sexton arrived in Tuscaloosa as the crown jewel of Alabama’s highest-rated recruiting class ever. Sexton was a Rivals.com Top Ten recruit out of Georgia, part of the No. 7 class in the country. But while the point guard’s physical talent was readily apparent from the moment he stepped foot on campus, handling being an instant messiah wasn’t always a comfortable situation.
“It has been really neat watching him progress,” Schaffer said. “It’s almost like each week he gets better. Not skill-wise, but mentally. He’s really grown.”
Slowly, Sexton has developed into being the leading man this Crimson Tide team needed. Now, there’s no choice but to take over in order to keep Alabama’s season alive.
In the process, Collin Sexton has altered the order of the nation’s best point guards. He’s on top, and Trae Young is not.
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