Alabama fans can get their first look at the 2008-09 men’s basketball team this afternoon at Coleman Coliseum in the annual Crimson-White intrasquad game, and it may look markedly different from previous Mark Gottfried-coached teams.
Gottfried, entering his 11th year at Alabama, finds his job security more questionable after two consecutive seasons of missing the NCAA Tournament and has responded with an up-tempo style that promises to be more aggressive on defense.
“We are going to push it and get after people defensively,” Gottfried said.
“We have the personnel to be a lot more of a defensive team. You cannot expect certain guys to pressure the ball physically if that is not their strength. We are a much quicker team now. We can pressure the ball and get after people.”
The return of point guard Ronald Steele from a knee injury, the improvement of guard Mikhail Torrance and the defensive ability of Senario Hillman creates an opportunity for Alabama — typically a team that ranks near the bottom of defensive statistics — to utilize its strength on the perimeter.
Hillman had just 21 steals in his part-time role last year, but Gottfried believes the sophomore’s quickness and athletic ability can be an asset on the defensive end of the court.
“I’ve told him this and I believe it with all my heart: He can be the very best perimeter defender in the nation, period, bar none,” Gottfried said.
“I think he’s that good. Senario, I think, is just an absolutely shut-down defensive guy.”
Of course, questions remain concerning the effectiveness of Steele, who had surgery on both knees in April, 2007, and follow-up surgery on one knee in August, forcing him to take a redshirt season last year. Steele hasn’t been healthy since 2006.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Steele said.
“We put in a lot of hard work and I’m just excited to get out there and play the first game. I’ve been feeling good so far and haven’t had any problems. I’ve been working hard and have not had any setbacks, so hopefully I will continue progressing.”
Today’s game, which tips off at 4 p.m., will feature teams coached by assistants Philip Pearson and James Holland.
The Steele brothers (Ronald and Andrew) will join forces on the White team and will be joined by Alonzo Gee, Brandon Hollinger, Justin Knox and Greg Cage. Pearson, Jeff Dunlap and Ryan Powell will coach the White team.
The Crimson team will feature newcomers JaMychal Green and Anthony Brock, along with Hillman, Torrance, Demetrius Jemison and Yamene Coleman. Holland, Antoine Pettway and Brock Morris will coach the Crimson.
Admission is free and will feature an autograph session on the floor after the game. Alabama will return to the floor on Thursday at 7 p.m. for an exhibition game against Faulkner University.