Ronald Steele's got a ticket on a roller coaster
Tide guard frustrated with his inconsistency
January 17, 2007
By Kyle Veazey
DAILY Sports Writer
TUSCALOOSA — When his team needed him most, Ronald Steele wasn't there.
Chuck Davis was lost for the season about an hour earlier. Ole Miss was leading at Coleman Coliseum in Alabama's league opener, and Steele, healthy after a month of painful back spasms, was expected to lead the comeback.
He finished 0-for-10 from the field. Three fouls, two points.
"That ain't the word," Steele said. "Here I have a couple of good games, and I'm feeling better, playing better. Then a game like that, in a time that I think we really need to win the game, it was real frustrating."
A thesaurus, Steele isn't.
A lesson in how a player's season can go from up to down to up and down and back up again, Steele is.
Steele seems to have recovered from that game.
His 15 points, five assists and three steals helped the Tide beat Auburn, and his 14 points, including two huge 3-pointers, helped the 7½-point underdogs to a 68-64 win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena three days ago.
He played 40 minutes in both games. For a man who spent the early part of December not even practicing because of sharp back pain, that's no small feat.
"I regret playing him at Temple, to be honest," Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried said Monday. "I should have held him out. He's one of those guys who wants to play, and he tells me he's OK, that type of thing.
"(But) there for about 10 days he was very ineffective."
Steele's sophomore season started with national attention. After a stellar true freshman season in which he started every game at point guard, Steele was a first-team preseason all-SEC pick.
But as soon as the Crimson Tide's season started tumbling, Steele's did, too. He took an inadvertent hit in a November practice, and felt back pain in his team's 11-point loss to Memphis on Nov. 17. It increased during the next two games.
By the time Alabama hosted Notre Dame on Dec. 7, Steele's back had become a major issue.
"One day during practice it kind of locked up on me," Steele said. "I couldn't even walk."
Trainers advised Steele and his parents that the best option was two days' worth of aggressive treatment in the hospital.
After Alabama's loss to Notre Dame, Steele entered DCH Regional Hospital and spent the night.
He got up and went to class the next day and practice, too, though he didn't participate.
After more back treatments at the hospital the next night, he made the trip with the team to Temple on Dec. 9, where he played 35 minutes and scored 10 points in Alabama's 68-58 loss.
That was the low point of Steele's season.
"It was frustrating after he hurt his back," said his father, Ronald Steele Sr. "His mobility was short. He was trying to play through it. It was obvious he was in a lot of pain.
"All we could tell him was to hang in there and get better, keep going, and we'd pray for him."
Soon, Steele started to feel like his old self.
Finals provided a week-long break from games after the team returned from Philadelphia, and he scored 11 points in 31 minutes in a blowout win over Georgia State on Dec. 17.
Five days later, he played 40 minutes, scoring 14, in the Tide's loss to North Carolina State.
In many areas, though, his production isn't up to freshman-year levels.
He's dropped about 9 percentage points in field-goal shooting (38.2 percent now compared to 47.3 percent a year ago) and has 1.3 fewer assists per game (3.7 assists now, 5.0 last year).
But scoring is up (10.9 compared to 7.9), due mainly to an offense that needs Steele to score more in the absence of Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton.
Too, Davis' injury has put Steele at off guard when freshman Brandon Hollinger has played.
Steele also has fractionally improved in both turnovers and steals.
"I have to play better than I ever have for us to have a chance to win," Steele said.
He's getting to experience the winning part. Like Saturday, in his first trip to Rupp, with his dad sitting in Section 37. The back spasms, too, seem to be history.
"I'm fine," Steele said Saturday, after the dozen or so reporters had cleared from his corner of a makeshift interview room.
"I guess you never know," he said earlier last week, "but hopefully it's over."