CECIL HURT: Questions face Tide basketball team
The University of Alabama men’s basketball team, which begins practice for its 2007-08 season on Friday night, has questions, like every other team in the NCAA.
However, Tide coach Mark Gottfried has at least gotten a sneak peek at some of the answers.
First, Gottfried has gotten to see his team perform in a long weekend trip to Canada and the practices that preceded that northern jaunt. Second, Gottfried knows already point guard Ronald Steele won’t be available this season. The senior has chosen to sit out this year and rehabilitate his surgically-repaired knees, eliminating the uncertainty that plagued the Crimson Tide a year ago.
Ronald Steele’s absence does raise some other questions, though. Who will replace him as the Tide’s point guard. Perhaps more importantly, who will replace the leadership he provided as a sophomore, when he was the healthy focal point of the team? Most importantly of all, how good can Alabama be without him?
“We learned a lot on the Canadian trip,” Gottfried answers. “We learned about our strengths — and we learned we have a lot of weaknesses that we have to work on.”
There might be a temptation to write this season off even before it begins and look to 2008-2009, when the Tide might have a healthy Ronald Steele and the No. 1 recruiting class in America to go with it. (More on that later.)
But Gottfried insists that there will be no excuses offered or accepted this
year, despite a daunting non-conference schedule and the usual Southeastern
“Would I have scheduled differently if I had known Ron would be out?” Gottfried said. “That’s a fair question. I’ll say that the schedule was made with the idea that we would have an All-American point guard in the lineup. I probably would have scheduled a little differently if I had known that. But I still have confidence in our guys. I think they can meet the challenge.
“Richard (Hendrix), Alonzo (Gee) and Mykal (Riley) recognize that they will be relied upon more with Ron not playing. They have to set the tempo as far as effort and defensive intensity.”
Ronald Steele will be around the practice floor but won’t be cleared to run for the next several weeks. His main contribution before that time will consist in offering pointers to the Tide’s young point guards.
“We’re going to go with Mikhail (Torrance, a sophomore) and Rico (Pickett, a freshman) there,” Gottfried said. “Brandon (Hollinger) can play there if we need him, but I think our best bet is to turn it over to (Torrance and Pickett) and coach them into being the best they can be.
“We know more about Rico and our other freshmen (guard Senario Hillman and post player Justin Knox) because of the Canadian trip. They are a little further along than freshmen usually are because of that.”
Talking of the Tide’s freshman class might inevitably lead to questions about recruiting, if Gottfried could discuss it. (He can’t, per NCAA rules.)
Because of the NCAA early-signing period in November, a team actually adds its class for the following season before it has played more than a game or two in the current year – and that can lead to looking ahead.
Alabama already has three commitments that form the nucleus of a powerful class. The state’s No. 1 prospect, power forward JaMychal Green of Montgomery, is the linchpin, complemented by wing players Andrew Steele (Ron’s brother) and Tony Mitchell, both rated in the nation’s Top 50. If the Crimson Tide could add the two players who visited last weekend — 6-foot-10 J’mison Morgan of Dallas, Tex., and 6-9 Xavier Gibson of Dothan — it would be a class to rival the Dukes and UCLAs of the college basketball world. To get an idea of the esteem in which Morgan is held by recruiters, he’s made four official trips: Alabama, Kansas, UCLA and LSU. He’s trying to pick between Kentucky and Louisville for his fifth visit. Gibson isn’t far behind in terms of interest, although he will probably choose between Alabama, Florida State and Bob Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers.
It would be a coup for Gottfried to sign such a class — but it won’t change anything about the 2007-2008 season, which is the top priority now.