TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Toward the end of Alabama basketball’s practice Friday, John Petty Jr. pulled up for a 3 roughly five feet from the half-court line. The way the junior guard is shooting these days, just about every shot appears to be makeable.
Petty currently leads the SEC and ranks No. 4 in the nation in 3-point shooting, making 51.2 percent (42 of 82) of his shots from beyond the arc. The Huntsville, Ala., native has been especially hot of late, hitting 17 of 24 (70.8 percent) of his shots from deep over the past three games, including a career-high 39-point performance against Belmont where he tied his school-record of 10 made 3s.
“I’d say my confidence level is probably at its all-time high right now,” Petty said. “I feel more freely, playing like I played in high school. You know, it’s basically just the repetition we get up in (practice) and just the confidence Coach puts in us by letting us know that if you work on it it’s all going to come together.”
Petty ranks second on the team with 16.4 points per game and leads the Crimson Tide averaging 7.4 rebounds. Over his past eight games, the former five-star recruit is averaging 19.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 made 3s while shooting 55.4 percent from the floor and 59 percent from beyond the arc. He has also shot 90.9 percent (20 of 22) from the free-throw line over that span.
“I think he’s established the fact he’s going to play hard every single possession,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “You don’t have to fight him on that anymore. When we got here we kind of heard stories, talked to the staff, watched some video. I think he was up-and-down with his effort. Now that he’s giving max effort pretty much every single play, really all you’re doing is coaching him. You don’t have to get on him about playing hard, you’re just coaching technique stuff like X and O stuff.
“And his basketball IQ is really high. Like I don’t know how many people know that about him, but he’s really, really smart picking up opponents stuff off running our own stuff. Like he’s probably the one guy on the team who really knows all five spots on the offense probably inside and out.”
Petty’s last three games are a stark contrast to his first three of the season. The 6-foot-5, 184-pound guard started the year 7 of 25 (28 percent) from the floor and 3 of 15 (20 percent) from 3-point range in games against Pennsylvania, Florida Atlantic and Rhode Island. However, that slow start helped continued to his overall development as a player as Petty said he put an extra emphasis on effort whether it be offensive rebounds, drawing fouls or helping out more on the defensive end.
Under Oats, Alabama has tracked “blue-collar points” this season as players are judged on a points system where deflections, steals, blocks, rebounds, loose balls all count for one point while offensive rebounds are worth 1.5 points and floor dives and drawn charges are worth four points. Petty currently leads the team with 47 deflections and ranks second with 224 blue-collar points, trailing only Herbert Jones’ 225.
“We keep track of those blue-collar points and every few weeks — I go back to my math-teacher days, statistics — we give them a little correlation, linear-regression line. When your blue-collar points are up, your points are up. Almost everybody on the team, there’s a pretty strong correlation between them.”
Along with his production on the court, Petty has stepped up as one of Alabama’s leaders off it as well. He credited his new veteran approach with becoming a father, stating that taking care of his one-year-old daughter Aubrielle has molded him into a more mature person.
Petty’s newfound patience and wisdom have allowed him to be a better mentor to some of his younger teammates. One player the junior has taken under his wing of late is freshman guard Jaden Shackelford, who is fresh off a career-high 28 points during Alabama’s victory over Richmond earlier this week.
Shackelford has struggled to make 3s this season, shooting just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc. However, the four-star freshman is 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from deep in his past two games, including a career-high six 3s against Richmond.
“First I told him, ‘don’t let it bother you,’” Petty said. “Because once you let it bother you, you tend to overwork yourself or you start to lose confidence. So I tell him, ‘just keep shooting.’ I said there’s not one shooter on the earth that makes shots every single game. Everybody has bad games. So I told him, ‘just keep your head up and keep pushing.”
Alabama (7-5) enters SEC play riding a three-game winning streak as it heads to Florida (8-4) for a 5 p.m. CT tipoff on Saturday inside Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Crimson Tide ended its non-conference slate by winning 5 of 6 games with its only defeat coming in a 73-71 loss to currently ranked No. 21 Penn State.
“I feel like we finished pretty good,” Petty said. “We started out slow, but I feel like that was just some of the guys getting used to the season, getting used to the new system. I feel like we’re ready now. I feel like we’re peaking at the right time, and it’s time to make some noise.”