A year ago, Alabama Men’s Basketball Coach Anthony Grant had a roster of 12 to start practice – six holdovers and six newcomers. During the course of the season Bama added Andrew Steele back into the mix after he recovered from injury, but late in the season dismissed Tony Mitchell, keeping the balance of old and new.
This year’s Alabama team has a different look with only one new face. Crimson Tide Coach Anthony Grant got his team onto the practice court beginning last Friday and on Thursday discussed the 2012-13 Bama team, pointing out that most of the personnel were known.
“The majority of guys return from out team last year, so there’s a level of familiarity that I have and they have in terms of a system. This being Year Four (in the Grant Era), I think we’ve been able to get at least part of our identity in terms of the guys understanding who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Bama lost two men from last year’s team, All-Southeastern Conference low post player JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who was dismissed from the squad before the end of the season.
The Tide returns four starters – senior Andrew Steele (who returned to the team during the season last year after it had been thought a head injury had ended his career), junior point guard Trevor Releford, and sophomore guards Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey.
Also returning are sophomore forward Nick Jacobs, who started 15 games; sophomore guard Rodney Cooper, who started 14 games; and junior centers Carl Engstrom (7-1, 285) and Moussa Gueye (7-0, 255).
Retin Obasohan, a freshman guard last year, was redshirted in 2011-12 and returns as a freshman.
Alabama also had two players transfer after last season, guard Charles Hankerson and point guard Ben Eblen.
Alabama is coming off a 21-12 record, including a best in the West 9-7 Southeastern Conference mark. Bama made it into the NCAA Tournament, but lost a first round game, 58-57, to Creighton.
The season begins this year with an exhibition game against Stillman on Nov. 6, followed by home games to start the 2K Sports Classic in Coleman Coliseum against South Dakota State on Nov. 9 and vs. West Alabama Nov. 11.
This year Alabama has only one new player, 6-8, 200-pound freshman forward Devota Pollard from Kemper County High School in Porterville, Miss.
Although there have been just a few days of practice, as he pointed out on several occasions, Grant said, “I’ve been pleased with what I see out of our guys in terms of the work ethic and what we’ve been able to get accomplished.
“I’m very excited about the group of young men that we have this year, and the potential that we he have as a basketball team. Even though we have several guys who were a part of our team in years past, we’re still relatively a young team. So I’m excited about the potential that we have to improve over the course of the season as we learn each other, as we re-familiarize ourselves with what it takes to compete in the SEC and throughout college basketball.
“It’s a beginning and we’re looking forward to the journey.”
Grant pointed out the Tide has only one senior, Andrew Steele. And although Steele has played more games than any other player, Grant said, “he has maybe the fourth or fifth most starts.”
The most veteran player insofar as minutes played and games started (66) is junior point guard Releford. Grant said, “He’s in a position where he can help the younger guys in terms of what’s coming, what to expect. He’s got some valuable experience.”
Grant has an interesting take on leadership responsibility. He said that as the coach, he is expected to provide the leadership. The players, he said, must take ownership of the team. He said, “The thing I ask them to bring is the accountability, among themselves, to hold each other accountable, to be reliable and to be available to do the things we have to do on a daily basis to make sure that we’re there for each other.”
Grant did note that Gueye has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of all but 12 games for Bama last year.
The coach did not want to talk specifically about the expectations of players. “We’ve got 10 players on scholarship,” the coach said. “Everybody on our team will be asked to contribute in a significant way.”
Last year perimeter shooting was an issue for the Tide. Much was made of the Bama defense holding opposing teams to 28.9 per cent three-point shooting. The problem is that Alabama also shot 28.9.
Grant said, “This year, the NCAA allowed us two hours a week in the summer to work with our guys, and we tried to take advantage of that with the guys who were here on campus. We did a lot of shooting, a lot of things that we did that promote that.
“When you look at the makeup of our team, the majority of our perimeter guys were young guys. Outside of Andrew Steele, we had a lot of young guys last year that were learning college basketball and trying to figure out their roles and what they could and couldn’t do, so I think as a coach what you see a lot of times is a big jump between guys’ freshman and sophomore years in terms of the comfort and understanding and the expectations.
“I’m confident that we’ve got a basketball team that has a lot of diversity in terms of the skills that we can put on the floor, and I feel like we’ll be a better shooting team.”