On the opening day of the national signing period, Barton Community College’s Al Key made it official Wednesday by putting his signature on an NCAA national letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
A flash-and-dash combination guard, possessing a silky smooth mid-range jump shot and a propensity to get himself to the free-throw line, Key’s never-hold-back persona was the driving force in his recruitment by the Crimson Tide’s coaching staff.
“I love the transition game, I think that’s what I’m best at,” said Key during an 11:30 a.m. press conference inside Kirkman Activity Center with the entire Barton team looking on. “I think that’s why I chose Alabama because that’s the way they play. They get up and down the court and apply pressure for 94 feet, and that’s what I like to do.”
Key was joined by Barton head basketball coach Craig Fletchall and sophomore Turon Parker during Wednesday’s press conference. Parker signed to play point guard for Bob Chipman’s NCAA Division-II Washburn Ichabods in Topeka.
Key, whose postseason hardware included being a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association third-team All-America selection, chose Alabama over Georgia and Texas Christian.
“Alabama … Coach (Anthony) Grant, they came out to a couple games,” Fletchall said. “I think the thing they like about Algie is his ability to play multiple positions.
“At the next level, he’ll play 10 minutes at the one (point guard), 10 minutes at the two (shooting guard) and 10 minutes at the three (small forward/wing). I think his versatility is going to help him play at that level.”
A native of Decatur, Ga., who prepped at Lakeside High School, the rangy 6-foot-4 Key had watched Southeast Conference basketball first-hand in suburban Atlanta as a youngster, who, standing at 6-1, could dunk in the seventh grade.
But he didn’t have loyalties for any one school.
“My favorite team, college, I really didn’t have one,” Key said. “I liked everybody. My family loves Alabama because my parents are from there.
“Right now, they’ve brought in the guys they’ve needed and got the guys there that can go all the way now, hopefully win an SEC title and get to the NCAA tournament. I think this is a good fit for me and I want to do as well, having only two years to play, to help them reach the goal of making the NCAA tournament. They want me to come in and play combo guard, playing three positions.”
After his first season at Barton, Key was named for the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Western Division Freshman of the Year award, among other various honors, he had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a small tear in his right shoulder.
“It was tough for me,” Key said, “knowing I was going to have to have surgery and finding out how long I was going to be out, being off the court for that long.
“I was determined to heal and come back and help my team any way I could any way. It was a tough task, but I knew I could do it.”
This past season, Key again led the Cougars in scoring (17.6 points per game) and assists (151), along with averaging 6.2 rebounds — third on the team. No. 24-ranked Barton advanced to the NJCAA Region VI championship game and finished 28-6 overall.
Key, the Cougars’ leader in scoring, assists and steals over the last two seasons, put a wrap on his illustrious career by finishing with 1,214 points and 315 assists — both ranking No. 4 on the Barton career list.
“Obviously, Al’s consistency and the fact that he’s a two-time All-American for only the second time in the history of the school warranted that type of exposure,” Fletchall said of Key joining former Barton standout Robert Whaley, who was a first-team All-America pick in back-to-back campaigns (2001-02), on the exclusive list. “I think they’re getting a good one in Algie.
“You’re getting a guy that is tested and played through injuries. He’s ready to elevate his game to the next level.”
Key finished atop the Barton career list for free throws attempted with 536 (280 in 2012 and 256 in 2013) and foul shots made (371). He owns the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in single-season free throws made (189 in 2012 and 182 this past season).
His unrelenting, unselfish style will be Key’s legacy, inasmuch as his explosive drives to the basket and pull-up jumpers.
“I like for people to think of me more as an overall player,” Key said, “than somebody that can just score the ball, and I like to get my teammates involved and before anything. I’d rather them get a shot off before I do.
“It’s an honor to move up the list to the top 5 in both categories. I’m proud of my accomplishments and what I did here in my two years, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and I’m proud of them, too.”
Accumulating 597 points during his sophomore year, Key, because of his athleticism and despite his unselfishness, found it easy to score. In 67 games over a two-year stretch, Key scored 20 or more points in 27 games and had six 30-point explosions while recording 13 double-doubles and one triple-double.