Mark Gottfried didn't search long to fill a vacancy on his coaching staff.
The Alabama basketball coach hired one of his former players, Antoine Pettway , to fill the vacancy created by the move of Kobie Baker to administration, putting one of the most popular faces in recent Crimson Tide basketball history back on the bench after a two-year coaching stint at Jacksonville State.
It is Pettway's second term as an Alabama assistant. He served as a graduate assistant in 2006.
"I have a great belief in Antoine," Gottfried said.
"As a player, he was a great leader. He epitomized the definition of toughness and he played with such heart. I've watched him closely as a player and then later as a member of my staff in our office, and I think he will bring a lot to our staff."
The furor surrounding Baker's promotion from director of basketball operations to a full-time position, followed by the worst season in Alabama basketball in nearly two decades, put the entire coaching staff on the proverbial hot seat for the 2008-09 season. The hiring of Pettway, while not the experienced assistant many fans were looking for, should satisfy some with the addition of an outgoing young assistant who had a reputation for heart and a penchant for winning as a player.
"I am excited to come back to the program that I love," Pettway said.
"Alabama basketball has a great tradition and I'm proud I was able to help add to that tradition as a player and now I will have the opportunity to help add to many more great moments on the basketball court for Alabama as a coach. Coach Gottfried was always able to coach and bring out the best in me and my game and I'm looking forward to working with him and Alabama's coaching staff."
Gottfried did not define Pettway's role as an assistant but it likely will be the same as the role filled by Baker last year. Baker was promoted from his role as director of basketball operations to on-the-court assistant last summer, taking the place of Tom Asbury. In the wake of a disappointing finish that saw the Tide tumble from a No. 4 national ranking to an unranked team that missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years, Baker's hiring was not the most popular.
As Alabama's standing among the Southeastern Conference's elite teams continued to tumble last season, speculation grew that Baker would be replaced. When he asked to be reassigned to an administrative post for personal reasons, Gottfried quickly turned to Pettway, who had been a member of Mike LaPlante's staff at Jacksonville State before the latter was fired in early March.
Pettway, a native of Alberta, played for his father Joseph at Keith High and later at Wilcox Central High, leading both schools to a state championship. While at Wilcox his senior year, he maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and was the most valuable player on one of the state's top programs, earning him an academic scholarship to Alabama.
He walked on as a freshman and earned an athletic scholarship by the end of the season. In 2002, he hit the buzzer-beating shot that gave Alabama a win over Florida and the regular season conference title. In 2003, he was the invaluable sixth man who helped the Tide to a No. 1 national ranking in December; and in 2004, he hit clutch shots that won games at Georgia, at Arkansas and against Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Alabama went on to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, knocking off top-ranked Stanford and defending national champion Syracuse in back-to-back contests.
Few have epitomized Pettway's heart and soul since, a primary reason why the hiring of the 25-year-old assistant could be viewed as a spark for a team that returns Ronald Steele and Alonzo Gee and welcomes freshman JaMychal Green.
"I'm really looking forward to working with the players on the Alabama team," Pettway said.
"One of the things I've always been proud of is the class of players Alabama has on its teams, year after year. They are talented players who work hard and play well and they conduct themselves with class off the court."