Alabama Basketball In Monday Exhibit

Anthony Grant

For years, a few University of Alabama partisans have referred to Auburn as "West Georgia," partly because Auburn is just a few miles from the Peach State and partly because Auburn has had so many students from Georgia, presumably, it was joked, because UGA and Georgia Tech wouldn't take marginal students. Yuk-yuk.



But there really is a West Georgia. And, just like Auburn, it has a poor basketball team. Alabama will play host to the West Georgia Wolves in the opening game of the 2013-14 season in Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m. CST Monday. There will be no broadcast of this first-ever Bama-West Georgia men's basketball game.

It is the lone exhibition game for Coach Anthony Grant's Crimson Tide. West Georgia is playing its second preseason game, having lost to Jacksonville State, 65-52, Thursday.

Last season's Crimson Tide went 23-13, but missed the NCAA Tournament despite finishing tied for second in the Southeastern Conference with a 12-6 record. Most of the conversation since then has been on two lost starters, neither of whom need to have been lost. Center Moussa Gueye was a surprise transfer for his final year of eligibility to Valparaiso in Indiana, where he is immediately eligible. Wing player Trevor Lacey will spend a year sitting out before being eligible for Mark Gottfried (the former Alabama head coach) at North Carolina State (and where the surprise may be on Lacey if he expects to get developed to play in the NBA).

Alabama returns eight lettermen and three starters off last season's team, although one of those will not be playing against West Georgia. Levi Randolph (a 6-5, 205-pound junior guard who averaged 8.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year) is sidelined for an undetermined time as he recovers from a pre-season knee injury. When he does return, the Tide will have in toto approximately 67 per cent of its scoring, 60 per cent of its rebounding, and 54 per cent of its assists from the 2012-13 campaign.

West Georgia also returns eight lettermen and three starters from a team that went 9-18, including 4-12 in the Gulf South Conference. West Georgia is led by senior forward Sean Boston, who averaged 11.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game a year ago. They also return Lavon Gray and Ryan Godfrey after both missed last season due to injury.

Alabama is led by returning All-SEC performer Trevor Releford (6-0, 190). Although Releford is known primarily as a point guard, he has also been effective – some would say more effective – as a scoring wing player. Last year he led Bama in scoring (14.9 points per game), steals (2.1 per game), and three-point shooting (40.7 per cent).

The Tide returns five of its top seven scorers from last year's NIT quarterfinals team.

Junior guard Rodney Cooper (6-6, 215) returns as the team's second-leading returning scorer after averaging 10.2 points per game a year ago. He also led the team in rebounding with 4.5 boards per contest.

Other top players from last season include junior forward Nick Jacobs (6-8, 245, 7.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and sophomore guard Retin Obasohan (6-1, 205, 3.9 ppg and 3.1 rpg). Junior center Carl Engstrom (7-1 265), who received a medical redshirt last season, has recovered from a knee injury he suffered early last year. Although far from a polished basketball player, he is athletic and hard working. He started three games last year before being injured and averaged 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

Monday night's game will offer the first look for most Tide fans at three newcomers – junior college transfer guard Algie Key (6-4, 195) and freshmen Jimmie Taylor (6-10, 240) and Shannon Hale (6-8, 220). The three participated with returning Bama players during a summer practice period and four-game tour of Europe.

Grant also has two returning walk-ons from last year, 6-6, 215-pound junior forward Dakota Slaughter, and 6-3, 185-pound senior guard Isiah Wilson. Slaughter has been placed on scholarship for this season.

Two transfer players, 6-2 junior guard Ricky Tarrant from Tulane, and 6-9, 215-pound sophomore forward Michael Kessens from Longwood, are sitting out this season.

Grant begins his fifth season at the helm of the men's basketball program and has a record of 86-52 (.623) at The Capstone. He is 162-77 (.678) in seven seasons as a head coach.

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