Alabama is known as a football state, and rightfully so, but Thursday night further proved how Alabama is growing as a basketball state.
At the 2021 NBA draft Joshua Primo and Herbert Jones from Alabama were drafted 12th overall to the San Antonio Spurs and 35th overall to the New Orleans Pelicans respectively. With Primo’s selection in the first round, it was the first time Alabama had players picked in the first rounds in consecutive drafts since 1995-96 after Kira Lewis Jr. was chosen eighth overall in 2020.
Auburn also had two players, JT Thor and Sharife Cooper, drafted on Thursday night, both in the second round.
Since 2018, the Tide and Tigers have combined to have eight players drafted in the NBA. In the previous 18 years, there were the same amount drafted combined. Prior to Chuma Okeke’s selection in the first round in 2019, Auburn did not have a player drafted in the NBA since 2001.
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafting Collin Sexton in the first round in 2018 broke a 10-year draft drought for Alabama.
However, the growth is not just shown in NBA draft picks, but also in recent on-the-court success.
Auburn famously, or infamously to Alabama fans, had the Final Four run in 2019 as well as the SEC tournament title, the program’s first since 1985. The Tigers also won the SEC regular season in 2018.
Alabama claimed both the regular season and tournament titles in 2021 on the way to a sweet 16 run. The tournament championship was the first in 30 years, and the regular season title was the first since 2002.
Both teams have been able to break through on the national scene in the postseason and in recruiting which only strengthens the rivalry and heightens the level of competition within the state.
Football has long had a strangle-hold on the state of Alabama, but there is a passionate and growing group of basketball fans across the state.
The key for both programs will be continuing to grow and keeping up the momentum. With Nate Oats and Bruce Pearl leading the programs, there could be some very exciting years ahead for college basketball in the state of Alabama.