John Petty Jr. did not realize the extent of his popularity until the day he led May Jamison High School to the 2017 State 5A Championship in Huntsville, Alabama.

After the championship game, the five-star rookie and Alabama pledge head coach Jack Doss told them they wanted to meet their families in the parking lot. But Doss advised the reluctant player and future Alabama No. 11 (against Georgia, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) to wait.

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My coach said, “Wait, give me a minute.” You don’t want to go yet,” Petty said again. “I said, “What’s going on?” He said, “The whole gym is waiting for you. You’re not going to like this. I went in and there were so many people. Can I take a picture? Can I get an autograph? It took me an hour to get to my family. I couldn’t even find them. I should have listened to him”.

Scenes like this might have convinced Petty – who is on the 2017 five-star list that also includes future Atlanta Hawks lottery winner Trey Young and Phoenix Suns star Deandra Ayton – that college basketball would be a quick stepping stone to NBA stardom. Instead, he is one of five stars in his class who will still play in NCAA Division I in 2020-21, along with M.J. Walker of Florida, Chuck O’Bannon Jr. of TCU, Malik Williams of Louisville and Quade Green of Washington.

Wrong: The film, not specified.veteran John Petty Jr. was key to an Alabama team seriously aspiring to reach the Final Four. AP Photo/Sean Rayford.

One-and-done didn’t happen for Petty, who is currently a 6-foot-4 senior guard averaging 13.4 PPG and has logged 39% of his 3-point attempts with a team that could win the SEC and get into the NCAA tournament. Petty said he believes he made the right decision by staying in school. The father of two is graduating soon and his NBA dream remains: he is the 59th pick in ESPN’s latest draft. He said he no longer doubted himself and ignored the pressure that top recruits often face to enter the selection process after a year or two of college basketball.

“After my first year, I felt like I wasn’t producing enough or showing that I could play at the next level,” Petty said. “For me, it’s just about getting better, no matter how long it takes, no matter how long you’re in college. That never bothered me. I always heard, “You should go to the draft.” But that was always my choice. I just wanted to get better and better every year.”

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1:21

John Petty Jr. helped Alabama get off to a good start against LSU with his first seven shots from beyond the arc.

His background also shows the diversity of college basketball: even in one climate, each player’s path is unique. Collin Sexton, a former teammate of Petty’s at Alabama who spent a season in an NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, said he reminded Petty of the award he deserved.

“He’s become a working man,” Sexton told ESPN. “We all know he had to leave. He really impressed me. And I make sure to cheer him on. People here notice.”

The same advice Walker, who averages 13.7 PPG and makes 45% of his 3-point attempts at Florida State, received from his family when questioning his trajectory as a young player. Walker said he needed the growing pains he experienced the past four years under Leonard Hamilton.

“You have to deal with outside noise,” Walker said of the life of a five-star rookie. “Friends tell you to go to the league. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel that when the time comes to hear my name called, I’ll be ready.”

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0:17

Florida state trooper M.J. Walker walks up to a suspect and steps on him.

During his first season, Walker’s enthusiasm for helping Florida State to the Elite Eight was tempered by sudden fatigue. Throughout most of his first year on campus, he didn’t seem to mind the nightly walk to the ground-floor pizzeria in his building. But by the end of the season, he was listless. He played just eight minutes in his team’s 58-54 loss against Michigan in 2018. “It really humbled me,” he said. “I felt exhausted at the end of the season.”

Today, he carries a pitcher of water everywhere on campus. And when Florida State was forced to suspend the team this season due to COVID-19 protocols, Walker led his teammates in a sprint in the parking lot next to the training center. He also keeps Scottie Barnes around, who he believes will be a first-round draft pick for the NBA squad this summer, and whispers the wisdom he gained during his time at Florida State.

Walker, a player who was always a few minutes late four years ago, now values punctuality. He says he still dreams of playing in the NBA and loves to see his friends succeed at the next level. But his experience, the diploma he will return to his parents and the success he believes Florida State can achieve in Indianapolis have confirmed his decision.

“You’re sort of asking when it’s your turn,” he said. “I feel like I struggled with that part of my mind when I was young. I feel like I’m playing all over the world right now.

Williams can understand it. He laughs at the changes that took place while he was at Louisville. He is the “old man” in the locker room, the only remaining player in his class. He’s been sidelined this season with a foot injury, the second-biggest of his career, but he’s confident he can help a good Louisville team get stronger.

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0:35

At the end of the second half, Malik Williams made a dunk in the nick of time to propel Louisville to a 79-73 victory over Duke.

Williams said that in his first season, some people encouraged him to make a quick jump to the NBA. But that wasn’t his mission. He said he always remembers to make better decisions for his future. Although he admits he didn’t come to Louisville with a love of academics, the schedule calls for him to graduate.

“When you get good, you want to stay there,” Williams said. “So you want to be as prepared as possible. I think college is underappreciated because it helps you develop and prepares you for the game. From high school to college, there’s a jump. And with the pros, it’s a whole different game. But right now I feel like a freshman in college, I’m two different people when it comes to basketball and adulthood.

Green was a five-star rookie at Kentucky before transferring to Washington, D.C., where he averaged 15.4 PPGs. Sometimes he thinks about what he would say to the young man who first set foot on the Kentucky campus.

“I would tell him not to worry about the pressure and to do what Coach [John] Calipari says,” Green said. “I would be a sponge.”

Wrong: The specified.film specified.”Not specified.Now” in Washington, D.C. Quade Green admits he regrets the way he handled certain aspects of his career in Kentucky. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Petty also admits that early in his career he lacked the determination that motivates him now. After his poor play in his first season, he wondered how NBA scouts in the building measured him. It took him some time to put that idea out of his mind and listen to his mother who, he says, always told him that God had a plan for his life.

Like Green, Petty stopped worrying about how each performance would affect his intermediate score and just focused on growing it. According to hope-math.com, he has 69% of his shots at the rim this year, up 11% from last season. According to Synergy Sports, he is considered “very good” defensively, holding opponents to 33.3% in head-to-head situations. He is also critical of Alabama’s No. 2 status in KenPom’s adjusted rankings of defensive effectiveness.

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0:20

Alabama’s Jayden Shackelford misses by three points, but John Petty Jr. is on hand to pull away.

The five-star veteran is now poised to lead Alabama to its first Final Four in school history.

“I always look back to see all the setbacks and how they shaped me,” Petty said. “The whole time I was down and wondering if I had made the right decision. Did I do the right thing? Did I do it right? And I was just confused. I finally got it out of my head. I made the right decision. I’m part of one of the most special teams Alabama has ever had. This team will go down in history, and the guys I play with are my brothers.

Every time Petty and Sexton talk, they think of their lonely season together. They also discuss their travels. It is clear that both are happy with the decisions they have made.

“No two people’s paths are the same,” Sexton said. “No two people’s path will be the same. Some may continue to study for a few more years to reach their goal. What I try to tell people is, don’t try to model their path after someone else’s success.

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