TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Thursday night was a big night for Alabama basketball.
In the 2021 NBA Draft, the Crimson Tide saw two players drafted, with guard Josh Primo being selected as the No. 12 overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs and wing Herbert Jones heading off to the New Orleans Pelicans as the No. 35 overall pick.
Primo's selection gave Alabama back-to-back NBA Draft Lottery picks for the first time in program history, and it was the first time since 1995 that the Crimson Tide saw two players selected in the same draft.
"I thought last night was great for the program for two guys to get drafted," Alabama coach Nate Oats said in a press conference on Friday morning. "Primo to go 12th, back-to-back years with lottery picks, guards. Certainly going to help with recruiting."
Heading into the draft, Primo was projected to be selected late in the first round. However, the Spurs surprised basketball fans by picking him early. A product of Canada, he was the youngest player in this year's NBA Draft.
Oats said that Primo's family trusted him and his staff to put Primo in a better situation.
“I’m really fired up for Primo and his family,” Oats said. “They trusted us and we told them we’d do anything that we could to get him in the best situation possible. Shoot, he was supposed to be a senior in high school last year — he reclassified Obviously he’s the youngest kid in the draft and ends up going 12th. It couldn’t have gone much better for him.”
During his sole season with Alabama, Primo started in 19 of the team's 33 games — the most of any freshman. In total, he averaged 22.4 minutes per game. Despite only starting 19 games, Primo finished the season fifth on the team in total points with 244 — an average of 8.1 per game. He also recorded 101 total rebounds, an average of 3.4 per game.
On the defensive side of the basketball, Primo totaled 17 steals and nine blocks.
"There's literally no red flags around Primo," Oats said. "He's the most respectful, polite kid. He came in here early, he had one thing on his mind, he wanted to make it to the NBA but not to the detriment of the team. He acted like a pro. [...] Primo's going to be really really good in the near future. There's no red flags that will deter him from reaching his potential. He's going to put his head down and do his work."
Primo noted on Thursday night after he was selected that he had not anticipated that he would have been drafted so high.
“Going that high wasn’t something that I was — I don’t know if I was ready for that,” Primo said. “I didn’t realize I was going to be that high, but I’m glad it’s with the Spurs. I’ve always wanted to be a Spur. I told my agent when I first got in this process ‘That’s where I want to be,’ and it ended up working out that way. It’s great.”
Combined with Kira Lewis Jr. from the 2020 draft and Collin Sexton in 2018, Alabama basketball now has lottery picks in three of the last four NBA Drafts.
Jones was the other Crimson Tide player taken in Thursday night's draft, selected in the second round at pick No. 35.
Last season, Jones was the captain of a Crimson Tide squad that won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships on his way to taking home SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Jones averaged 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks during his final campaign at the Capstone.
"Every NBA team has an analytics department," Oats said. "Herb was usually really high in plus/minus category. He's really easy to play with on offensive end. We were better with him in the game on offense and defense. Everyone in the league recognized it.
"Why were we winning at such a high level? Who was important to winning? Herb Jones kept coming up."
Jones won't be alone in New Orleans, though. Last season, the Pelicans used their lottery pick on Crimson Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr., Jones' former teammate. The two will be reunited once again at the NBA level.
During his availability on Friday, Jones expressed his excitement to be reunited with Lewis.
"Right after I got picked last night he FaceTimed me," Jones recalled. "We talked for awhile. I got overloaded with several phone calls and text messages so the conversation was kind of short. I was planning on calling him back today, but I'm super excited to be able to play with him again."
Oats believes that the Pelicans got a steal with Jones being selected at No. 35.
"There's a bunch of guys that went ahead of him that Herb is a lot better than," Oats said. "He's going to contribute more to winning, he's going to help the Pelicans a lot more than some of the guys ahead of him. That's why NOLA was excited he was at 35."
Jones and Lewis make two former Alabama players that are now on the Pelicans roster. Last season for New Orleans, Lewis averaged 6.4 points and 1.3 rebounds per game in 54 appearances. He also averaged just 16.7 minutes per game and came off the bench in all 54 games played.
Despite not seeing a single start in the 2020-2021 season, Lewis is likely to see more integration this year. Regardless, it's clear that the Pelicans see something in Oats' program in Tuscaloosa.
"I feel like we compete," Jones said. "We know how to play good basketball. We just go out there and try to win. We don't really worry about stats. We just go out there and compete as hard as we can and try to get the win."
With Alabama having lottery picks in three of the last four seasons, the rising program now has an even better spiel to pitch to incoming recruits. Thanks to draftees like Sexton and Lewis, Oats has been able to bring in top-tier high school prospects like incoming freshman guard J.D. Davison. Boosting players to their full potential like Primo has helped Oats glean players from the transfer portal like Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett and Furman's Noah Gurley.
That being said, the players' development doesn't happen on its own. Oats and his staff have brought in the quality players and have certainly built a solid development program, but the players still have to bring their own work ethic.
"You look at the work that Primo and Herb put in, probably the two hardest working kids on the team," Oats said. "Shows the rest of their teammates that hard work does pay off."
Alabama's third player up for the draft was guard John Petty Jr., Alabama's all-time three-point leader. Oats revealed on Friday morning that Petty had been dealing with a knee injury as well as some family matters that thwarted his rehabilitation. However, Petty will be playing in the NBA Summer League for the Detroit Pistons, where he hopes to obtain a two-way contract.
Here are player bios recapping both Primo's and Jones' years with the Crimson Tide, courtesy of Alabama Athletics:
Joshua Primo Bio
- Selected No. 12 overall to the San Antonio Spurs
- Became fifth consecutive Alabama rookie to be named to the SEC All-Freshman Team
- Played in 30 contests on the season, missing three games with an MCL sprain, making 19 starts
- Averaged 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc
- Ranked third on the team in three-point field goal percentage, second in free throw percentage and fifth in scoring
- Named SEC Freshman of the Week for the week of Jan. 25, earning the accolade after averaging 19.0 points, 5.0 threes made and 3.5 rebounds per game in contests at LSU and vs. Mississippi State, while shooting 73.7 percent (14-of-19) from the floor and 76.9 percent (10-of-13) from beyond the arc
- Finished with 12 games in double figures including eight games of making three or more three-pointers which ranked second-best on the team
- Had season high 22 points including career-best marks of 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the free throw line, to go along with five boards and three assists in the win at Auburn (1/9)
- Matched that with 22 points at LSU (1/19), knocking down a career-best six three-pointers in the victory
- Scored 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the win over Mississippi State (1/23)
- Had 19 points, all coming in the second half, in the win over Georgia (2/15)
- SEC First Year Academic Honor Roll
Herbert Jones Bio
- Selected No. 35 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans
- Marked the second consecutive year the Pelicans have drafted an Alabama player, taking Kira Lewis Jr. at No. 13 overall in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft
- Named AP All-American (Third Team), SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-SEC and All-Defensive Team
- Finished his career with 129 games played (101 starts) while collecting 947 points, 630 rebounds, 285 assists, 167 steals and 98 blocked shots
- Subsequently named to the All-SEC First Team (Coaches, AP and USA Today) and All-SEC All-Defensive Team
- Named as a finalist for the Naismith Award Men’s Defensive Player of the Year
- Earned USBWA and NABC First Team All-District honors and was selected as the USBWA District IV Player of the Year
- Earned a team-leading 17 Hard Hat Awards, which is given to the player with the most Blue Collar Points at the end of each game
- Led the team in Blue Collar Points (667), deflections (110), floor dives (23), and-1s (7-of-10) and dunks (19)
- Finished the year leading the team in rebounding (6.6 rpg), assists (3.3 apg), steals (1.7 spg) and blocks (1.1 bpg) while ranking fourth on the team in scoring average (11.2 ppg)
- Also topped the team in offensive rebounds (2.5 orpg)
- Led UA with nine games of five or more assists this season, while leading the team in rebounding 17 times, assists 14 games, steals 14 times and blocks on 14 occasions which are all team-best number
- Reached double figures in 19 of 33 games
- Had a career night vs. Georgia, accounting for a career-best 21 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and three blocks (2/13)
- Matched that scoring output by going for 21 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in the SEC semifinal win over Tennessee (3/13)
- Accounted for 20 points, six rebounds and three steals in the NCAA Tournament first round win over Iona (3/20)
- Recorded a career-high four blocks along with 13 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and the game-winning layup in the SEC Championship win over LSU (3/14)