To the point

For three seasons it's pretty much been all gravy for Antoine Pettway. As a key reserve off the bench, his energy and defense were extremely valuable to the Tide, but the burden of starting usually fell to other players. <br><br>No more.

The unexpected decision by Mo Williams to take his game to the NBA set a lot of dominos in motion, but principally it means that Antoine Pettway is now "the man" for Alabama at point guard.

Pettway explained, "Last year I had Mo. He created a lot for the whole team. We'll miss him. This year (for me) it's just running the team, being a solid point guard."

Has his role changed much?

"I always try to be a leader, but now I'm more vocal," Pettway replied. "I've got to get my guys ready to play from the tip. Even in practice I need to be more vocal."

As the only definite senior starter on an otherwise still-developing team, Pettway has so far led the Tide to a surprising 4-2 overall record. Even against clearly superior squads, this year's Bama team has yet to appear overmatched.

Other Tide players besides Pettway have performed surprisingly well, notably sophomore Chuck Davis, junior Earnest Shelton and freshman Jemareo Davidson, but Pettway deserves a great deal of credit.

Antoine Pettway battles for a loose ball. (AP photo)

Head Coach Mark Gottfried talked about his concerns at the point.

"(The position) needs to be better in a lot of areas. Although Antoine has played a lot, he really hasn't had to carry the burden of running the team yet. That's been Mo for the past two years. In the past everything Antoine gave you was gravy, just a positive."

With Pettway the only legitimate point guard on the squad, the senior has gone from appetizer to main course.

So far this season he's started all six of Bama's game, averaging 31 minutes per night, barely behind Shelton. His 14 steals are far and away tops on the team in that category, and Pettway also leads the squad with an .857 free throw percentage. Not surprisingly as starting point guard, Pettway leads Bama with 23 assists, more than double the nearest other player. His 8.7 points per game is fourth best on the squad, and Pettway even hauls in three rebounds per contest.

"Now Antoine is the person running the team," Gottfried said. "He still needs to get a lot better. He doesn't turn it over very often, which is good for us."

Pettway's actual assists-to-turnovers ratio is a more-than-respectable 23-to-8.

"This year I've got the ball in my hand most of the time," Pettway said. "I've got to make sure I make the right decisions and make sure we run our offense correctly and get good shots every time down."

Though the team is still developing its offensive identity, Alabama is averaging 71.5 points per game to only 67.5 for its opponents.

"I've got to pick my game up and create shots for my teammates," Pettway said. "Get your teammates open; get them good looks. Keep the offense efficient."

For the past two seasons Pettway served as Bama's defensive spark off the bench. Night after night he'd come in and immediately get in the face of the other team's point guard, setting the tone defensively for the Tide.

From his point of view, that part hasn't changed. "On the defensive end, it starts with me," Pettway said flatly. "I've got to pick my man up at half court and ‘D him up.' That carries over to the rest of the players."

As point guard Pettway's first priority is getting his teammates into the offensive flow and running Bama's offense. Because of that he often neglects his own shot, but he's capable of scoring when needed.

This year Pettway's responsibilities as point guard have increased. (Kent Gidley photo)

Against a probably superior Charlotte squad, he was quiet for most of the contest. But when the visiting team battled back to go ahead late in the game, Pettway stepped up to can two key three-pointers in a row that helped key the Bama victory.

"I knew the shots were good when they left my hand," Pettway said after that game. "They both felt real good. They were big shots."

"If the three-pointer is open, take it," Pettway continued. "But for me scoring is just gravy."

Sophomore Kennedy Winston is one of those Tide players that benefits from Pettway's offensive largesse, but he knows his teammate is capable of scoring in his own right.

"Pettway isn't a guy that's going to come out shooting a lot," Kennedy explained. "He's just going to take the open shots and make them count."

Down the stretch in that same Charlotte game, Pettway's flawless free-throw shooting sealed the win for Bama.

"When it turned into a free-throw shooting contest, I felt like the game was under control," Pettway said. "Any one of (our players) can step up and make those shots."

Coach Gottfried talked about his senior leader.

Pettway can be deadly from 3-point range. (Kent Gidley photo)

"He's such a great story. He came in as a walk-on, and now he's starting on an SEC team. He has so much courage and heart. He has to overcome some things with his size, and he will. But he's not going to back down from anybody."

Last year when things got tough, Bama's players looked to Erwin Dudley or Mo Williams for answers. Now those eyes turn to Pettway.

"I know that," Pettway said. "As a leader you take it when things are going well and when things are going bad. I hope we can get off to a good start and keep it going."

If effort and character win out, Gottfried isn't worried.

"Most of the guys Pettway's playing against will probably ‘out-talent him,' but I don't think very many of them will ‘out-heart' or ‘out-toughness' him," Gottfried said. "That's what Antoine brings to our team."

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