Andrew Steele knows what it’s like to be broken.
Almost every inch of his body has been injured throughout his basketball career. Out of the 164 games that have been played in his five years at Alabama, Steele has missed 71 due to injury. But his never-give-up attitude has allowed him to persevere through adversity and be able to play and be a part of the team and game he loves.
Friday, while sitting alongside Steele at a news conference, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant announced that the senior guard has been playing with a stress fracture in his ankle since the end of January and will need post-season surgery.
For the remainder of the season, Steele won’t be able to physically handle many minutes on the court, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try. Alabama (19-11, 11-6 SEC) hosts Georgia (15-15, 9-8) today at 3 p.m. CT (SEC Network) and Steele will try to play some. He’ll also do the best he can to help his team in next week’s SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament too, if the Crimson Tide can somehow break through the bubble. It will be tough.
“Every time he steps on the floor, it’s with tremendous pain that he does it,” Grant said.
Steele is a gritty competitor. When he steps on the court, he puts the pain in the back of his mind and focuses on the task at hand. He’s a huge asset to this year’s team. The Tide is 15-6 in games Steele has played this season; they went 2-5 when he sat out recovering from sports hernia surgery earlier in the year.
Steele, who has averaged 19.6 minutes and 4.3 points per game this season, always lays it on the line by diving for loose balls, crashing the boards and being physical on both ends. He leaves everything out on the court. So all injuries considered, could he be his own worst enemy?
“That could be the case, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said, smiling. “I wouldn’t be the player that I am or the person that I am if I wasn’t that way. I was always taught if you’re going to do something, do it 100 percent.”
Grant admires the heart Steele plays with and spent several minute just talking about him before getting into anything regarding this weekend’s game against Georgia.
“I can’t tell you of another player that really exemplifies what you look for in terms of a competitor, in terms of being a teammate, in terms of being coachable, in terms of just being about all the things that you want players in your program to exemplify,” he said.
“If you’re looking for the definition of a guy that’s going to sacrifice for his team, that’s this guy.”
Grant has told Steele on numerous occasions that he doesn’t have to play and that he shouldn’t feel like that’s how he must prove himself to his team.
“I’ve said, ‘Listen, Andrew. You don’t have to play. Don’t feel an obligation to myself or your teammates. You’ve paid your dues,’” Grant said.
“He said, ‘Coach, this is my last go-around. I want to do everything I can. Whether I keep playing or not, I’m going to have to have surgery at the end of the year. I want to do everything I can, and I’ll let you know if I just can’t or if I feel I’m hurting the team.’ That just adds something to it.”
Rather than get down, Steele has a very positive and mature outlook on what he’s gone through. He understands injuries are part of the game.
“I understand that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I may not know it now, but I understand that there’s a bigger reason that I went through everything that I went through. I honestly wouldn’t change any of it because it’s made me who I am now.”
Back in 2011, Steele went into “retirement” after suffering a season-ending concussion, but he decided to play again in January 2012. Of course that was just another notch on the injury belt. Then in August, he hurt his ankle and had surgery, but Friday he admitted that the doctor probably could have done more, but it would have set him back further and he wanted to miss the least amount of time possible.
“I always knew [this injury] could come back, but I didn’t know it would come back and be so painful,” he said.
But all this adversity has helped Steele decide what he wants to do for the rest of his life after his playing days are officially over—coach.
“My ultimate goal is to be a college coach,” he said. “But I understand there’s a process that comes with it, whether it’s being a grad assistant or coaching high school.
“It’s something that I’m really passionate about. That’s something that I credit Coach Grant. I’ve seen the way he’s handled the program, the passion he coaches with and the way he leads us…it’s really inspired me.”
Grant strongly believes that Steele has incredible potential to be a great coach.
“He’s got a personality about him where his teammates really respect and trust him,” Grant said. “I think that’s important.
“He really knows the game. We used to joke that he’d miss a month and know our plays better than guys that have been practicing for a month. He’s just got a high basketball IQ and really understands the game. He’s coaching our team now in practice and in games and in the locker room. He’s really in tune to helping other people. That’s really what coaching is.”
Steele will be honored as the lone scholarship senior at today’s Senior Day ceremony. Alabama, who is undefeated in SEC play at home, needs to beat Georgia in order to stay on the bubble and possibly get a bye in next week’s conference tournament. Grant hopes the team will play in honor of Steele and get the win.
“Any opportunity you get to show appreciation for what he’s meant to the program, what he means to this team, I hope our guys go out in a big game and show him how much they appreciate his leadership, his commitment, the example that he sets day in and day out,” Grant said.
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