By (Mary Hanlon Hale)

At the University of Alabama, it is only natural that football comes first in the minds of most fans.

The success and tradition has has created a passionate fan base that fills Bryant-Denny Stadium on game days but struggles to provide the same atmosphere for basketball games. With one year coaching the Crimson Tide under his belt, coach Avery Johnson, remains focused on rallying that same level of support for his program.

“You know, there’s a certain expectation right when we go to a football game here,” Johnson said. “We might be a little spoiled by always expecting to win, but that’s the way it is. My goal is to continue to change the culture here, continue to change peoples’ minds about basketball.”

Last season Alabama was predicted to finish No. 13 in the SEC. Johnson’s team finished a few places higher at No. 10, and was in contention for a top-seven or higher spot in the final few games of the season.

Despite the low expectations surrounding the program Johnson’s team finished with an overall record of 18-15 that included four wins over ranked opponents. Prior to Johnson’s arrival Alabama had not won four games against ranked competition in the regular season since 2001 and the program’s last victory over a single ranked opponent came in 2011.

Johnson said it was necessary to move the student section before any of these victories could occur. The students previously occupied a section further away from the court, but Johnson repositioned them to the first two sections across from the visiting bench so students could be more closer to the action.

Luke Halcomb, account executive for Crimson Tide Sports Marketing, said Johnson understands what the job entails.

“This is a guy who’s played in the largest crowds and arenas,” Halcomb said. “He’s got visions he wants to make, but he also understands the fact that he needs to put a winning product on the court by starting with the student section and moving down.”

Johnson has further energized the fan base by interacting with the fans personally.

Aaron Jordan, associate director of UA Athletics Communications, said Johnson is exactly who the basketball program needed. Jordan manages the setup of each interview, meeting, media report and social media account of both the coaching staff and team.

“We needed a coach who was going to sell the program to the fans, a charismatic person that would personally energize the fan base,” Jordan said. “What you see is what you get with him; he’s very genuine.”

Johnson discussed achieving success with a human environmental science class taking place on campus during the recent spring semester. Ann Kathryn Parish, a senior majoring in management information systems at UA, said Johnson got the entire HES mentor class to take a selfie with him afterwards.

“The fact that he took time out of his day to come talk to us is a story in of itself,” Parish said. “But to go even further out of his way and voluntarily take a picture with us afterward shows how much he cares about us and makes me appreciate the basketball program here more.”

Johnson also remains open to media conferences and interviews as much as his schedule allows, which increases the publicity and success of the entire basketball program, he said.

“My job took a complete 180 from [Anthony] Grant to [Avery] Johnson,” Jordan said. “Although I’m way busier, it’s a good type of busy, because I’m in high demand thanks to Johnson’s willingness to interact with the media.”

Johnson said he hopes his product will attract more fans in upcoming seasons.

“For those of you that didn’t come to a basketball game, give us a chance next year,” Johnson said. “I think you’ll love the product we put on before you and you’ll be proud of your basketball team as much as you are your football team.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports