All four of Bama's returning starters: Earnest Shelton, Chuck Davis, Jermareo Davidson and Kennedy Winston, are on campus and playing in pick-up games most afternoons at Coleman Coliseum or the UA Student Recreation Center. Most of the Tide's reserves participate as well, and newcomers Ron Steel (G, John Carroll HS), Glen Miles (G, West End HS) and John Felix (F, Bevill State) are on campus working out and playing ball.
"We have high expectations and the only way we're going to get better is if everybody sticks around and plays together and lifts weights and everything," Shelton said. "Our whole team is here pretty much just working trying to get better. It says a lot for our guys that they want to be here to work and get better."
Shelton is the only scholarshipped senior for the Crimson Tide's 2004-05 squad (walk-on Jason Reese is also a senior). Shelton, who started 29 games averaging 15.8 ppg (second on the team behind Winston, 17 ppg), is the man who will try to fill Antoine Pettway's shiny red shoes as the Tide's vocal and emotional leader.
"As far as playing a lot of minutes, I'm going to be the only senior and the guys will pretty much listen to me," he said. "I've just got to take initiative, and just talk to them and be a leader out here and try to get things going and talk to the guys and do anything else that has to be done."
Shelton knows that a comparable follow-up to the Tide's outstanding run in the NCAA tournament will require he and his teammates work hard not only in fall practice, but year round as the perennial national title contenders do. Alabama's appearance in the "Elite 8," the best tourney run in men's basketball history, has raised the bar to a new high for Bama's coaches, players and fans.
Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried has done a nice job bringing in the talent to replace Pettway at the point by signing Steele. But replacing Pettway's clutch play and leadership is a thing that must be cultivated now, in the summer, and as the squad feels its way through pre-conference play.
"I think we have as much talent if not more," Shelton said," but chemistry is going to play a big part. How quick and how well we can gel together and come around as the season comes around. We have a team full of talented guys and great scorers but if we can't play together and get it together it won't mean anything."