Collin Sexton really wasn't supposed to be here.
He wasn't supposed to be averaging 21.7 points per game as a freshman. He wasn't supposed to be the face of a resurgent Alabama basketball program primed to compete for the SEC. He certainly wasn't supposed to be a projected top-five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
See, guys who do that kinda stuff are usually on the radar years in advance. That's just how things works in modern basketball—the best players are scouted as pre-teens onward and deemed destined for dominant one-and-done college seasons years in advance.
Sexton, an 18-year-old point guard, is an oddity. While fellow freshmen like Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. were earmarked for the NBA ages ago, Sexton found himself unranked after his high school junior season. His confidence remained unshaken, for one reason—he knew his preparation was unparalleled. In the offseason that followed, Sexton stormed onto the scene. Anytime he found himself on a big stage, he stole the spotlight with his explosive playmaking and infinite motor. Within months, Sexton was a five-star recruit. In rolled offers from schools like Kansas, Georgetown, UNC and Villanova. None of it would've been possible had Sexton not been willing to work like a maniac before anyone knew his name.
Sexton had a schedule at Pebblebrook High School (Mableton, Georgia). He'd rise before 6 a.m. to pump iron and run lung-busting conditioning drills. Then it was off to school (he carried a 3.7 GPA) before heading to practice with either his high school or AAU team. After practice, he'd go through a skill-focused workout that saw him repeat different dribbling, shooting and lay-up moves until he could execute them in his sleep. The session couldn't end until he'd drained 300 jump shots. Sexton never shared these grueling workouts on social media, because he never had interest in creating an account. No Instagram, no Twitter, no Snapchat, no nothing. "You can't follow me on social media. Don't have it. In my opinion, it's a waste of time. Likes won't make you better at anything," Sexton wrote in a piece for The Player's Tribune.
Pebblebrook head coach George Washington had a first row seat for many of Sexton's workouts. While his work ethic was unlike any the coach had ever seen, Sexton's scorching passion would occasionally boil over. Sexton admits he hasn't been able to play one-on-one with his brother for years, as every game would inevitably devolve into a brawl. Washington used techniques like T'ing up his star player in practice to help Sexton tame his wild side, but he was careful never to extinguish the manic on-court energy that made the "Young Bull" such a special player. "He took a huge step in between his junior year and senior year," Washington told 247Sports.com. "He had to embrace that leadership role and lead his team."
The combination of an unquenchable work ethic, ferocious competitiveness and eye-popping athleticism primed Sexton for an unforgettable offseason in 2016. That summer, every game on the elite Nike EYBL circuit served as his coming out party. He came in as a relative unknown and ended the circuit leading all players with 31 points per game. "I worked really hard. Worked every day in the gym and on the track. I ran track a little bit this past track season, so that's been big for my conditioning," Sexton told KrossoverTV after an EYBL event.
Sexton's star skyrocketed after his dominant EYBL performance and helped him earn an invite to a try out for USA Basketball's U17 team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Knowing that Colorado Springs' elevation of 6,035 feet could impact Sexton's conditioning, Washington bought him an altitude mask to help him prepare. Sexton worked out three times a day, often in the blistering south Georgia sun, with that mask affixed to his face. "He wanted to be on that team so bad," Washington told SB Nation. "A lot of those other guys had been there before, so they were privileged. His job was to be the hardest worker. I told him, if you out work everyone, they can't deny you." Sexton bolted through the tryout and impressed the coaches with his elite conditioning. He went on to make the team and win tournament MVP at the 2016 U17 FIBA World Championships:
Yet for essentially becoming an overnight celebrity in the recruiting world, Sexton was never surprised by his success. "I've always viewed myself as on a certain track to get to this point. Basically, I'm pleased with the results but I'm not surprised by them. Because they aren't an accident. I didn't average 30 in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League last year because I suddenly learned how to score. I played well because I go to the gym every night and I don't leave until I've made 300 jump shots," Sexton wrote. "While other people might think of me as a late bloomer, that's because they haven't seen the work I've put in my entire life."
While he was inundated with visits from the biggest names in college basketball, it doesn't sound like Sexton's commitment was all that difficult for him. Before the EYBL, before he was the MVP of the FIBA tournament, before all that, one team saw something in Sexton. That team was the University of Alabama and head coach Avery Johnson. While other coaches heaped praise upon Sexton, Johnson—a 16-year NBA veteran and former NBA champion—preached accountability and process. Sexton committed to Alabama with the intention of making the traditional football powerhouse a force to be reckoned with on the hardwood. Of course, he continued to train like a madman after his commitment. Check out this video from Atlanta-based trainer Nick Stapleton of Sexton working out before leaving for Alabama (skip to 11:10 for a brutal conditioning drill that requires Sexton to wear a weighted vest while throwing down consecutive alley-oops):
The legend of Collin Sexton has only continued to grow since he's arrived at Alabama. During an early-season game against Minnesota, the 14th-ranked team in the country at the time, Sexton put on one of the most spectacular performances in college basketball history. Due to Alabama's entire bench getting ejected, a player fouling out and another spraining his ankle, the Crimson Tide were forced to go 3-on-5 for the final 10 minutes of the game. Already down 10 points before playing at a two-man disadvantage, the odds were insurmountable for Alabama. But no one told that to Sexton (skip to 4:32):
Collin Sexton on playing 3-on-5, getting triple-teamed: "I just wanted to win. And I was going to do anything for my team to win."
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) November 28, 2017
The fact that Alabama stayed in it until the bitter end is a testament to the freakish ability and unbreakable determination of Collin Sexton. "Collin Sexton, he could beat a single team by himself. He's just that good," Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said after the game. ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes recently dubbed Sexton the best player in the SEC. Who would've predicted that three years ago? Aside, of course, from the Young Bull himself.
Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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