Point guard's arrival opens up Bama offense

Last season's Bama basketball team had tons of talent. On any given night, spectators were treated to an assortment of thunder dunks, courtesy of Gerald Wallace. Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker provided athletic rebounding. And dead-center treys rained down from Travis Stinnett, Rod Grizzard, Terrance Meade and friends. <br><br>Yet something was missing.

Despite earnest efforts by Stinnett, Antoine Pettway and Tarik London, the point guard position remained a Tide liability all season.

Tide Head Coach Mark Gottfried, a former Bama guard himself, juggled the lineup numerous times last year, searching for the answer. But ultimately the solution wasn't found until true freshman Maurice ‘Mo' Williams enrolled in school this past summer.

Known for his ability to dribble and pass the ball, Williams also won the three-point shooting contest at the McDonalds High School All-American game. (AllSport)

A 2001 McDonalds All-America, Williams was rated one of the top prep point guards in the nation last year. "You can tell a difference with Mo," said Tide forward Rod Grizzard. "He pushes the ball real hard."

Listed at 6-1, 185 pounds, Williams put up big numbers as a senior for Jackson, Mississippi's Murrah High School, averaging 26.9 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game.

Following Thursday's easy victory over Athletes in Action, Grizzard spoke of his new teammate's impact. "They had to guard him all the time. They couldn't focus on me, Terrance (Meade) or Erwin (Dudley). Now we've got another offensive threat that we needed. That helps our team."

Competing for only 22 minutes, Williams chipped in 12 points on four of ten shooting, including two three-point shots. But as much as anything else, it was his passing and assists (five officially) that caught his teammates' attention.

Playing with a point guard capable of running the offense and dishing to the open man, shooting guard Terrance Meade can be deadly. Thursday he made 8-of-12 field goals, 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, for a team-leading 21 points. "Mo was looking for me," Meade said. "I got a lot of wide-open looks."

Afterwards, he admitted to some nerves early in the game. But Williams quickly settled down. "I think I played pretty good after my first two minutes," he related. "I was all right. I went out and tried to go through the motions. I didn't try to do too much or get in over my head. I tried to get in a rhythm. I wanted to get used to college basketball."

A bit of coaching advice from the head man helped. "I told him early on to ‘Take a deep breath. Just relax and play,'" Gottfried related. "Once he relaxed a bit, he was fine. I thought he really stepped his game up."

After working through some beginning-game rust, Alabama ran away with the game in the second half, breaking the century mark in an easy win. Every Tide player but one tallied points, with five different athletes scoring in double figures.

"It's different from high school," Williams explained. "Coming out of high school you're the No. 1 option (on offense). Here I'm playing with good players like Rod (Grizzard) and Erwin (Dudley) and (Terrance) Meade who can shoot it real well. That's better for me.

"I don't have all the load on me. I can just do what I do best, penetrate and find the open man."

Williams #25 of the East makes a layup during the McDonalds High School All American Game against the West at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. The West defeated the East 131-125. Credit: Craig Jones, (Allsport)

For the most part Williams concentrated on running the offense and keeping his teammates involved. But he's not worried about getting his shots. "When Rod gets the ball, everybody goes to him," Williams said. "When Erwin gets it, the double teams go to him. All I've got to do is knock down open shots."

Obviously Williams is a gifted player, but many predicted that Gottfried would bring Williams off the bench initially, easing him into the starting role.

Not hardly.

Gottfried explained; "We met the other day as a staff. I asked every staff member ‘If we had to play tonight, who are you starting?' It was unanimous. I didn't need to make a veto vote."

"I think Mo has earned the start in practice," Gottfried continued. "He's practiced very, very hard. He's picked up everything we've thrown at him. He did a nice job in there tonight. I think he started off a little nervous, but that's one of the reasons why I wanted him to go ahead and start now. We've got exhibition games, so he needs to get in there and get his feet wet right now, rather than waiting a couple of weeks. Hopefully he can feel confident and he'll be ready to play."

The Tide returns every player that started in last season's NIT, but the squad wasn't surprised to see Williams' name penciled in No. 1. "We found out maybe 20 minutes before the game that he would start," Grizzard related. "I wasn't really surprised. In practice he had been doing well.

"With Mo, things kind of clicked from the beginning."

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