Riley Wows Coaches, Teammates On And Off Court
FAYETTEVILLE -- Seated at a piano, Mykal Riley isn't shy.
He is almost everywhere else, always has been. The Pine Bluff native, a senior forward at Alabama, has lived his life as a man of few words. He was so bashful, Riley couldn't even strike up the nerve to tell his school's new ninth-grade basketball coach that he played.
So he sat out, watched from the stands. Skilled enough to land on the roster a years later, Riley didn't fess up to the 10th-grade coach -- he was the team manager instead.
Luckily, on the first day of his junior year at Pine Bluff High, the school's varsity coach spotted him. Riley had grown three inches since the previous fall.
"Coach was like, 'Let me put you on JV,'" Riley said. "I was so glad he said that. I didn't know if I could ask him."
Riley's crazy, windy road to Tuscaloosa, Ala., just starts there. It possibly ends, Riley hopes, in the NCAA Tournament, a competition the 6-foot-6, 185-pound forward thought he'd never experience.
In between, Riley has always played the piano -- in Pine Bluff, at Ouachita Baptist University, at Panola (Texas) Junior College, at Alabama. He learned when he was just nine; it's been his medium for expression ever since. He's not one for story-telling or even carrying on a long conversation, but he has wowed his Crimson Tide teammates, and gained respect, with his piano skills.
"He's unreal," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "The guy is unbelievable. He's talented. He can't read music either. If you put a song on the radio and put a piano in front of him, it'd take him about a minute or two to toy with it, and he'd be able to play it like he was Elton John. It's amazing."
That Riley ended up at Alabama at all, at a Southeastern Conference, is pretty astonishing, as well.
Gottfried heard of Riley only because of his friendship with Panola JC's coach. By the time Gottfried saw Riley play in the fall of 2005, he was out of scholarships. He wanted Riley, but told him "it couldn't work." He told Riley to stay in touch. Riley signed with Alabama-Birmingham, but its coach, Mike Anderson, left that spring for the Missouri job.
So a few months after being rejected, Riley reacted out of character and picked up the phone. He dialed Gottfried.
"He called and asked if we'd take him," Gottfried said. "I had a scholarship. We had a player leave the team in December. So he got out of his letter-of-intent, he came, and it's worked out for everybody."
It sure has. Riley started 20 of Alabama's 32 games last season as a junior. He averaged 12.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He earned a reputation as a dependable outside shooter and with point guard Ronald Steele out for the season, the Crimson Tide will count on him for more points.
After working on his defense this summer, Riley may be as confident on the court as he is on the piano, hitting the right notes to the latest Kanye West hit.
"I never saw myself playing at a school like this," Riley said. "So it was hard at first. But I feel like I belong now."
ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Mark Gottfried, 10th season
2005-06 record: 20-12 overall, 7-9 SEC
Returning starters: Richard Hendrix, F, Sr., 14.6 ppg; Alonzo Gee, G, Jr., 12.6; Mykal Riley, F, Sr., 12.6 ppg
Key newcomers: Rico Pickett, G, Fr.; Justin Knox, F, Fr.; Senario Hillman, G, Fr.
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 9 Troy 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 at Mercer 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 Belmont 6 p.m.
Nov. 23 Southern Mississippi
Nov. 28 at Texas A&M 8 p.m.
Dec. 1 Southeastern Louisiana 6 p.m.
Dec. 5 vs. Georgetown
Dec. 8 Nicholls State Noon
Dec. 17 Wofford 7 p.m.
Dec. 19 Texas-Pan American& 7 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. Missouri State& 7 p.m.
Dec. 23 vs. Purdue or Iowa State 9:30 p.m.
Dec. 29 George Washington 5 p.m.
Jan. 1 Clemson 3:30 p.m.
Jan. 4 Chicago State 7 p.m.
Jan. 8 Florida* 8 p.m.
Jan. 13 at Arkansas* 12:30 p.m. or 3 p.m.
Jan. 16 at Georgia* 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 19 Mississippi State* 2 p.m.
Jan. 26 Auburn* 2 p.m.
Jan. 29 Tennessee* 8 p.m.
Feb. 2 LSU* 2 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Mississippi State* 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Kentucky* Noon
Feb. 13 Ole Miss* 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 at South Carolina* 6 p.m.
Feb. 24 at Auburn* 1 p.m.
Feb. 27 Arkansas* 7 p.m.
Mar. 1 at Ole Miss* 1 p.m.
Mar. 5 at LSU* 7 p.m.
Mar. 8 Vanderbilt* 6 p.m.
* Southeastern Conference games
# SEC-Big East Invitational, Birmingham
& Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Classic, Las Vegasa