Alabama player continues to play for his late father

Crimson enforcer Donta Hall swats shots and dunks with force. He would have made his father, who died at age 45, proud. 

Donta Hall grew up faster than he would have liked.

Outwardly, he grew at least 9 inches from eighth grade until his senior year of high school, when college basketball programs fought for his signature. That part was just fine.

But growing up on the inside was much tougher and much quicker than anyone could have imagined.

He was 13 years old when it happened. The date was November 30, 2010, and he’d just finished playing in his first game on the Luverne High School junior varsity team in Alabama. Enjoying the moment in the locker room with his teammates, Hall was told by a friend he better go outside and check on his dad.

Donald Hall had collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 45 inside the school’s gym after watching his son play. It wasn’t a time his son will ever forget. And Hall’s family members say his father’s death pushed him closer to basketball because it was something they played together in the backyard of their home.

As he progressed in school, Luverne coach Richard Dorsey became a father figure. He helped Hall sort through the recruitment process when schools like Troy, Georgia and Mississippi State came after him. But when Alabama offered, Hall’s mind was made up.

And that goes back to his dad. Donald Hall loved Alabama, and just about everything he displayed in the house was a Crimson Tide artifact, his son has told people.

So, when it came time for Donta to sign with the Tide, nearly four years to the day that his father passed away, he chose to do so in his old school’s gymnasium bleachers, the last place he saw his father alive.

Alabama Forward Donta Hall (0) doing what he does best | Photo by Kent Gidley – courtesy Alabama Athletics

If you think that shows a sentimentality—a growth—beyond his years, just look at what he’s done since arriving in Tuscaloosa.

Only five players in Alabama basketball history have collected 700 rebounds and 200 blocked shots during their careers. One of them is Hall, a Crimson Tide senior post player, who is far from that skinny, unknown kid who arrived on campus four years ago.

You’ve probably seen Hall’s two-hand slams, the power rebounds, the hard-charging gallops down the court. Longtime Tide fans close their eyes and, in Hall, they see glimpses of Bobby Lee Hurt, David Benoit, Reggie King and others. But even those three guys aren’t among the 700-200 club that Hall joined along with Tide legends Leon Douglas, Robert Horry, Jermareo Davidson and JaMychal Green.

Southeastern Conference (SEC) guards who drive the lane don’t also want to see Hall, who was named to the 2018 All-SEC Defensive Team.

Hall is 6 foot 9, 230 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He’s an enforcer who stays close to the basket and rules his territory.

He has improved as much from his freshman season as any Crimson Tide player in recent memory. And this season has been Hall’s best. He leads the SEC in rebounding in league games with a 9.0 average. He also leads the league in “double doubles” (at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in the same game) with 10 of them. And he leads the Crimson Tide in blocked shots with 48.

And, oh, by the way, he’s already graduated from UA and working on his master’s degree.

Photo by Robert Sutton | Courtesy Alabama Athletics

Head coach Avery Johnson has so much confidence in Hall that, after early tinkering with the starting lineup, he settled for much of the season on a four-guard look featuring point Kira Lewis, wings Dazon Ingram, Herbert Jones and Tevin Mack, along with Hall to man the middle.

Sophomore power forward Galin Smith has moved to the bench, and senior center Daniel Giddens rarely plays at all anymore.

It’s Hall’s show down low, so just how did he get to this point?

Since arriving as a freshman in 2015, Hall has added more than 30 pounds to what was barely a 200-pound frame. His work in the weight room has been impressive. His maximum bench press has improved by more than 80 pounds since he got to Tuscaloosa, now sitting at 265.

So he’s bigger and stronger, sure. But there are nights it seems he can jump out of the gym at Coleman Coliseum, and his training chart seems to back that up. His maximum vertical touch has increased more than six inches to 12 feet, 1 inch. In other words, Hall could throw down some awesome slams even if the goal was higher than 10 feet.

Coaches always talk about the development of a player as being their most important job—and in this case, Tide coach Avery Johnson can be quite proud. Check out the four-year improvement in several categories:

—Points per game: 2.8 (freshman), 6.0 (sophomore), 10.6 (junior), 10.7 (senior).

—Rebounds per game: 4.3, 5.5, 6.6, 8.4.

—And here’s a big one: Tide fans used to cringe when Hall, like many big men, took a deep breath, standing alone 15 feet from the basket. The dreaded free throw. But this season, through repetition, his free-throw percentage is up to 73.9 percent following seasons of 43.1, 60.0 and 55.6.

Dorsey told the media before Hall ever played in college that he could make it to “the next level,” the NBA. Draft projections from Sports Illustrated and don’t have Hall going because of his lack of outside shooting but said Hall could be “a defensive specialist” in the NBA. If not, without a doubt there is an overseas pro contract waiting on him.

Yes, Hall has shown development in Tuscaloosa. But he got a head start working on himself and working on his dream. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see him succeeding now. H&A

Steve Kirk

Steve Kirk

A sports writer and editor for 25-plus years, Steve’s career includes stints at The Birmingham News, Florida Times-Union, The (Columbia, S.C.) State and Birmingham Post-Herald. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, he lives in the Atlanta area.
Steve Kirk

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