Steele Is Huge Difference For Tide

Andrew Steele doesn't lead Alabama's basketball team in any statistical category. He's seventh on the team in scoring at 4.7 points per game. He's not even a starter.

What Andrew Steele is, though, is a winner. There have been times when it was thought that Steele's Alabama basketball career might be over. Certainly that was the thought when he suffered a concussion late in the 2011 season that delayed his return to the Tide last year. Steele then suffered a sports hernia that required surgery in December. That's the kind of injury that can be long-term, but Steele missed only seven games.

There has been a lot of reference to those seven games Steele missed, as well as to the 14 games in which he has played.

The Crimson Tide of Coach Anthony Grant is 12-2 in the 14 games Steele has played. Bama is 2-5 in those seven games in which the senior from Birmingham was sidelined.

Alabama's latest win, a remarkable come-from-behind 58-54 win at Vanderbilt Saturday, provided evidence of Steele's leadership. Alabama had fallen behind by 11 points with just seven minutes to play. Steele had a message for his teammates.

"Keep fighting," he said.

Alabama didn't fall behind by 11 points on one trip and the Crimson Tide couldn't get it all back on one possession. Steele took note that Bama had cut into the lead a little bit at a time as the clock was winding down.

"Just chip away, chip away," Steele told his teammates. And the Tide did just that, outscoring the Commodores 18-3 in those final seven minutes.

It was Alabama's first win over Vanderbilt in Nashville in 23 years.

Steele delivered a season-high 13 points, including connecting on three of four three-point shots. He kept Bama in touch with Vandy during a tough first half. At one point he swished a three-pointer, followed up with a drive for two points, and then delivered a steal on defense for a run-out lay-up by Levi Randolph.

Grant cites his fifth-ear senior for "his leadership, his communication, just the respect that he gets.

"I can't tell you how valuable he is."

The coach said that Steele – who was briefly a student-coach when it was believed his playing career had ended – is teaching his younger teammates "what leadership is all about."

Grant added, "He's always going to give you the effort and the intangibles – the leadership, the passion that he has for his team and for this university. It shows and it's contagious and those things supersede the points, the rebounds, and anything else."

Alabama has now won six of its last seven games and is 14-7 overall and 6-2 in Southeastern Conference games and tied with Kentucky and Ole Miss for second in the league behind Florida.

Some have said the future is bright for this Alabama basketball team because of the schedule. Alabama has six more games in February, and none are against heavyweights. The remaining games begin Wednesday against an Auburn team that is 2-6 in the league. Tipoff at Auburn is at 7 p.m. CST and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.

The Tide will also host the Tigers in February. Bama also plays two games against LSU (3-5) and one each against Georgia (4-4), South Carolina (2-6), and Mississippi State (2-6).

But if the future is bright, it may be as much because Andrew Steele is giving the Crimson Tide that extra boost.

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