Alabama forward Bola Olaniyan is a man.
Or is he a rebounding machine? Alabama head basketball coach Avery Johnson isn’t sure how he wants to refer to the 6-foot-7, 220-pound fifth-year transfer from Southern Illinois. Right now, Johnson’s just hoping he can call him the answer to the Crimson Tide’s rebounding problem.
“He’s been just what we thought, a rebounding a machine. A rebounding machine,” Johnson said during his news conference Friday afternoon. “We desperately need it because those of you who followed the Tide last year know that we were about 323rd or whatever in offensive rebounds, and we’re down there with a bunch of teams that didn’t make the tournament.”
Alabama was actually tied for 242nd in offensive rebounds last year, but that doesn’t change its need for improvement. Johnson believes Olaniyan, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference’s Most Improved Team last season, can be the man, or the machine, to help turn that around.
Last season Olaniyan averaged 7.8 points per game while pulling down 8.8 rebounds for the Salukis. He had a team-high six double-doubles and, perhaps most importantly to Johnson, led the MVC in offensive rebounds with three per game.
“I think Bola has a skill set,” Johnson said. “He’s an undersized center, plays some 4, and the way he gets after it in practice is pretty fun to watch. He’s a man now. He doesn’t say much, but he does a lot of talking with his physicality on the floor. I thought we needed to have him, not only for games but for competition in practice.”
Competition and depth played a big role in Johnson’s decision to bring in the big man. During the Alabama’s first official preseason practice Friday, Johnson said Olaniyan recorded five offensive rebounds while the other two big men recorded just two between them.
The head coach knows those numbers will have to get better if he wants to take the Tide to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012 this season.
“I thought we needed more competition in the front court,” Johnson said. “I looked at Jimmie (Taylor) and Donta (Hall) kind of battling each other all year. Shannon (Hale) was in a situation where he couldn’t practice much full speed.”
Johnson called Olaniyan one of the best “per-minute” rebounders in the country. At 6-foot-7 the senior is undersized for a typical SEC big man. However, Johnson compared Olaniyan’s game to another 6-foot-7 forward in NBA legend Dennis Rodman.
“Guys like Dennis Rodman or some of the other legends of the game, those guys weren’t necessarily the biggest guys, but they were the baddest guys,” Johnson said. “They had a will. They had a knack for the ball. There was a relentlessness in their pursuit of the basketball like you’ve seen before. ... That’s what we’ve seen from (Olaniyan).”
Rodman earned the nickname of The Worm during his playing days. Johnson hasn’t nailed down what he will call Olaniyan, but the head coach is certainly happy to have him aboard.
“We thought we hit a home run in being able to utilize that last scholarship in investing in Bola,” Johnson said. “We hope that it pays dividends for us. ... I don’t know if it’s one game or two, I think this year he’s going to help us with some games.”
Alabama had a 15- to 20-minute open viewing for men's basketball practice today (20 if you count stretching and such). Here are some observations with the obligatory disclaimer – it's a short period of one practice, so someone who is shooting hot today may be cold on another and vice-versa. So, here you go: * Avery Johnson is possibly the nicest person in the world. Class act all the way. When the media arrived on the floor, he walked over from across the court and shook hands with every single person and thanked us for coming. When it was time to leave, he walked all the way across the floor and shook hands with every single one of us and thanked us again.
* Braxton Key, 6-8 freshman from Charlotte (Oak Hill Academy) finished first in the wind sprints before practice (back and forth cross-court several times). That's not to say he'd win a footrace, but usually the guys who finish first in drills in my experience are among the hardest workers and the guys who set a pace and example for others.
* During slow-and-easy catch-and-shoot drills (no defense) to open the portion of practice that we attended, they were shooting mid-range jumpers. Avery Johnson Jr. (sophomore transfer from Texas A&M, eligible this year), Bola Olaniyan (6-7 forward, fifth-year senior transfer from Southern Illinois), Key, Riley Norris and Nick King (junior 6-7 transfer from Memphis, eligible this year) all looked to have a good shooting touch. Jimmie Taylor, Dazon Ingram and Donta Hall, not so much.
* Next came three-on-three fastbreak drills. Ar'Mond Davis (6-6 swing forward, juco transfer) showed a nice stroke on the full-speed pull-up jumper from about 15 feet, hit a couple of those. He has a big vertical leap, can really get up there. King also knocked down a couple of pull-up jumpers. Taylor and Key were the most physical in boxing out and mixing it up for rebounds. Jimmie also had a nice, strong dunk to finish, as did Hall.
* Overall impressions of five-on-five is that there aren't enough finishers at this point. Some good moves to the basket, some good looks, but lot of misses. Dazon is not a shooter but can penetrate and score.
* In shooting drills at the end of our viewing (big guys shot mid-range, wings/guards shot threes), Davis and Norris were knocking them down, same for Collins.