Alabama basketball assistant Bryan Hodgson impressed with Crimson Tide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Known as Alabama basketball’s lead recruiter, Bryan Hodgson spent the past week and a half watching a player already on his roster. The first-year assistant coach traveled alongside Kira Lewis Jr. to Greece as the Crimson Tide point guard helped Team USA claim the FIBA U19 World Cup.
It’s been a whirlwind three months for Hodgson since he followed head coach Nate Oats down from Buffalo in April. He played an instrumental role in Alabama landing freshman Raymond Hawkins as well as graduate transfer James “Beetle” Bolden and JUCO transfer James Rojas. However, Hodgson's time in the Mediterranean was all about developing a relationship with his new team’s returning star.
Hodgson not only accompanied Lewis to Greece but was also there during the point guard’s tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo., last month. He studied Lewis from the stands during USA’s undefeated seven-game run. And while Lewis’ 4.0 points, 1.6 assists and 1.1 rebounds over 10 minutes per game didn’t fill up the stat sheet, his performance abroad left a big impression on his new coach.
“One thing in Greece that I learned about Kira was I don’t think there’s a selfish bone in his body,” Hodgson said. “There were times where I’m sitting there in the stands watching the USA game, and Kira’s on the floor, and he’s playing limited minutes because they’re playing all these guys. And he passed up open-shot opportunities to get other guys the ball.
“We would have conversations at night after the games, and he had one goal and that was winning a gold medal… Those are the guys we want to coach. In Coach Oats’ system, being unselfish is huge, especially at his position.”
Lewis earned SEC All-Freshman honors last season, leading Alabama in points per game (13.5), assists per game (2.9), minutes per game (31.6) and free-throw percentage (78.3). Although he won’t be a new addition this year, convincing the former prized recruit to stay in Tuscaloosa was the Crimson Tide’s most important recruiting feat this season.
Lewis entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal in March following the departure of former head coach Avery Johnson. The point guard eventually removed his name on April 8 after meeting with Oats and Alabama’s staff. Lewis talked about the process Wednesday, stating it didn’t take him long to feel comfortable with the new staff.
"Even when you have bad days, you can talk to them,” Lewis said. “They just understand where you’re coming from.”
Before making his final decision, Lewis was also introduced to the new staff’s practice style. The high-energy workouts were a change of pace from the last regime but reinforced a vision for future success.
“The practices are competitive. I know after the first day, I probably was as gassed as I’ve ever been practicing wise, and that was just an hour,” Lewis said. “As time went on the guys got used to it. We just got in the gym and got better and try to win more games than we did last year.”
Hodgson spent the past four seasons with Oats and has seen the results from the strenuous workload demanded of his players. During their time in Buffalo, the two led the Bulls to three NCAA Tournament appearances and three Mid-American Conference tournament championships, while also earning a pair of MAC regular-season titles. In addition, Buffalo reached the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
While that success is the product of hard work in the gym, Hodgson said the intensive approach also requires a certain level of trust between coaches and athletes.
“I think part of my philosophy and our philosophy as a staff is to really coach these guys and coach them hard. When I say hard, I mean push them and get the most out of them,” Hodgson said. “You’ve got to earn their trust, and they’ve got to believe in what you’re saying and believe that you have their back. I myself and the rest of the staff, we spent a lot of time in the first two months getting to know these guys as people, not just who Kira is in practice but who he is as a person… We’ve really gotten to know these guys. When you build that relationship and you trust each other then you can push them in practice.”
Alabama’s non-stop grind isn’t limited to its players either. While Hodgson’s primary focus in Greece was Lewis, the assistant admits there were a few players he’s “keeping tabs on” following the tournament.
“There were a couple of intriguing prospects,” Hodgson said. “Usually at the U19 deal, the majority of those guys are accounted for. There were a couple of guys I’m going to keep an eye on, even some guys I may see this weekend.”
Regardless of how those evaluations go, Hodgson likes what he sees with his current unit.
“We walked into a group of players who really wanted to be coached,” Hodgson said. “They want to win basketball games…We walked into a group of really good kids, so one thing I can say is we were very fortunate.”'