The answers to both? A resounding "Yes." ">
The answers to both? A resounding "Yes." ">

Tide hopes to end NCAA drought

BIRMINGHAM-- There were two concurrent themes surrounding the University of Alabama's trip to SEC Basketball Media Days. Head coach Mark Gottfried and returning players Terrance Meade and Erwin Dudley each fielded questions on both: Is this the year the Tide returns to the "big dance" for the first time since 1995, and is Mo Williams going to help Bama get there? <br><br>The answers to both? A resounding "Yes."

"This year we want to find a way to participate in the NCAA championships since we were unable to last year," said Gottfried. "We have enough veteran players to pave the way for our newcomers. Last year we won 25 game, but we didn't get the major thing accomplished that we strived for."

That "major thing" would be that elusive NCAA bid.

The Tide won 21 regular season games last year but was snubbed the tournament committee due to what was seen as a lackadasical out-of-conference schedule. With Temple, Utah, UCLA , Notre Dame and a few others added to the dance card this year, no one will accuse the Tide of padding its dance card.

"We're now playing well-known non-conference teams," said Dudley, one of the league's top inside players. "I'm just looking forward to playing these teams we normally wouldn't. Every time I play basketball, whether it's a conference or non-conference game, that's motivation enough for me."

One of five juniors on the squad, Terrance Meade is looked to for leadership by his teammates.

The Tide was picked first in the SEC's western division by the media on hand for the event, and has been similarly heralded by several pre-season publications.

"I think those predictions came about because of the guys we have under the basket," said Gottfried. "We're going to have to play very defensive. Mississippi State is very talented. Auburn is a deep team. LSU is going to be a lot better than last year, and Ole Miss has proven to us not to count them out."

Though the Tide returned five starters, one of them will now likely come off the bench: junior Travis Stinnett. The reason? Highly-touted freshman point guard Maurice "Mo" Williams of Jackson, Mississippi's Murrah high school.

Meade and his teammates have been playing pickup ball and now practicing with Williams for months, and they're impressed.

"He's an all-around point guard," said Meade of his new backcourt mate, who like Meade, checks in at 6-2 "He's a very good defensive player and that's the key thing we've been missing. He's great at scoring. He can also penetrate and pitch. I know he has a bright future at Alabama."

Williams was slated to start at point guard in the Tide's opening exhibition game "because he's earned it," said Gottfried.

His fellow starters will likely include Meade, the 6-8 Dudley, 6-9 center Kenny Walker and 6-8 preseason All-SEC wing Rod Grizzard.

Gottfried said 6-3 sophomore Demetrius Smith, who was injured much of last season, will help quickly off the bench. "You can compare him to a utility baseball player. He's a storng guard, plays the point, and he's complementary of the team. He can also play the three (small forward). He's just great all around. He, along with Travis Stinnett, will play a lot." Gottfried said the 6-0 Stinnett may not play as much at the point as last year, but "his shooting is so good you have to get him in the game."

Dudley said 6-7 sophomore Reggie Rambo has "improved his game" and "he'll help us get a blow," referring to time Dudley and Walker take rests. Former walkons Antoine Pettway (6-0) at guard and 6-6 Solomon Davis at forward are both expected to help in relief, as is 6-3 freshman sharpshooter Earnest Shelton.

Front row, left to right: Solomon Davis, Demetrius Smith, Antoine Pettway, Travis Stinnett, Maurice ‘Mo' Williams, Earnest Shelton and Terrance Meade.
Back row: trainer John Morr, assistant Philip Pearson, head coach Mark Gottfried, Reggie Rambo, Erwin Dudley, Kenny Walker, Rod Grizzard, Lucky Williams, assistant T.R. Dunn, assistant Orlando Early and director of basketball operations Darron Boatright.

The Tide opened exhibition play with Athletes in Action last night, taking a 103-77 victory. Alabama faces another touring team, EA Sports, in Tuscaloosa next Thursday. The regular season opener comes Wednesday, November 13 against Mississippi Valley State in the opening round of the Guardians Classic tourney. That game tips off around 8:30, following the conclusion of a contest between Samford and Loyola-Marymount, with the winners slated to square off the following evening.

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