Alabama may be underdog
TUSCALOOSA -- Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried looks around the SEC and sees no one worthy of being labeled the worst heading into this season.
Well, except for perhaps his own team.
"Right now, I think we're kind of looking up at every one of those teams," Gottfried said. "We've got to find a way to hop over the pile."
The picture for 2007-08 changed for Alabama when star point guard Ronald Steele announced last month he would take a medical redshirt year to recover from multiple knee surgeries.
Ronald Steele, a senior and former All-American, plans to return in 2008-09 after a year of cheering teammates and practicing once doctors say he can. While hinting it's not impossible for him to be able to return this season, Ronald Steele admits the scenario probably is "really unlikely," even if Gottfried mentions it "just about every day."
"You can never rule out any possibilities, so I'll never say never," said Ronald Steele, adding, "there's a lot that goes into it. It's more than just being out there feeling good."
One reason for the early redshirt announcement -- Alabama started preseason practice Friday -- was to eliminate uncertainty in the locker room.
Back-and-forth medical problems plagued Ronald Steele and eventually forced him off the court by the end of last season. The questions took a toll on Alabama as the Tide underachieved, slumped late and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
"It was every day," Gottfried said. "As we walked onto the floor to practice, you're looking over and your players are looking over to see if he can practice today. Is he going to play? What are we doing?
"I've never been in that situation, and I don't think many people have. From that perspective, that's not an issue now. Now we know what we have. We know the hand that we've been dealt and you've got to play it."
Sophomore Mikhail Torrance of Mary Montgomery High and true freshman Rico Pickett will vie for Ronald Steele's point guard spot. Torrance figures to have the inside track, since he played in 21 games last season, but Pickett arrives as a touted recruit out of Decatur High School .
They have felt expectations drop due to Ronald Steele's expected absence.
"A lot of people are counting us out this year," Torrance said. "Some people think that we're an NIT team. We see stuff like that, take it in and stay motivated."
It's not as simple as replacing Ronald Steele. Other questions exist for a returning 20-12 group that lost in the first round of the NIT a year ago.
Gottfried is particularly searching for a second post player now that four-year starter Jermareo Davidson has moved to the NBA. Alonzo Gee could accompany junior forward Richard Hendrix up front in what amounts to a four-guard lineup.
That fits into the new idea. The Tide wants to run more this season, following an example being set by two-time defending national champion Florida and preseason SEC title favorite Tennessee.
"We didn't get very many easy baskets at all on the break, and that hurt us," Gottfried said. "Every time we scored last year, we scored against someone's set defense. In basketball, that's too hard to do. You've got to get some in the open floor."
An emphasis on the Labor Day journey to Canada was for Alabama to push the ball on the break more often. The Tide scored at least 88 points in three of four exhibition games during the trip.
The regular season begins Nov. 9 against Troy after the Oct. 30 Crimson and White Game followed by a Nov. 5 exhibition against Division II North Alabama.
"There's a general feeling that the expectations are much lower than they were," Gottfried said. "I kind of get a sense when I go around the community and talk to people; they're almost already looking to the next year. These guys aren't. Our players aren't. We've got to find a way to have some success this year."