Gottfried's masterful motivational efforts last year paid off big, however, as the Crimson Tide finished 2004 better than any Alabama men's basketball team in the school's history. This year he's billing his "Elite 8" squad with four returning starters as the third-best in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, less talented and experienced than Mississippi State and LSU in his estimation.
"(Mississippi State) is the most experienced group," Gottfried said. "(LSU) has enough pieces to be a tremendous team. Mississippi State and LSU are the two that are out there in front of everybody else (in the SEC West)."
"I'm not buying all this high expectation stuff. We've got a lot of questions."
Gottfried said his top two concerns for the coming season were: 1.) How healthy will Kennedy Winston be, and 2.) How will things work out at point guard with the Tide replacing two seniors, Antoine Pettway and Demetrius Smith, with two freshmen, Ron Steele and Glen Miles?
Winston had arthroscopic left knee surgery on June 3rd in Birmingham to clean up some scar tissue in his knee left over from a previous surgery on the same knee. Winston experienced pain and swelling throughout last season after originally having surgery on September 11, 2003.
Gottfried said he is hopeful that Winston will be able to resume running, working out and playing in pick-up games in about a month. Trainer John Mohr said that the staff is taking a "real conservative approach" to Winston's rehabilitation this time. "There's no need for him to pound on it when he doesn't have to," Mohr said.
Winston has ballooned from a 220-pound playing weight to 238 pounds. He said improving his conditioning will be his main concern once he's cleared to play.
He also said that playing at less than 100 per cent last year helped him become a more intelligent basketball player. "I think I got smarter as a basketball player being hurt," Winston said. "Not being able to use my athletic ability as much, I had to use my smarts."
On question number two, concerning the point guards, Gottfried said he doesn't expect to have to move an upperclassman to the point position to take up some of the slack left by departed Antoine Pettway. Gottfried said he expects Ron Steele and Glen Miles to battle for the starting point guard slot, while Al Weber will be in the off-guard position.
"I think we'll learn a lot in Alaska (at the ‘Great Alaska Shootout' tournament)," Gottfried said. "We'll have two freshman point guards playing on the road against Alaska (to open the tournament). That trip is going to teach us a lot."
The tournament begins on November 24. "I think (Steele and Miles) will be good enough as freshman, but they'll still be freshman," Gottfried said.
Rising sophomore Chuck Davis, who started 32 of the Tide's 33 games last year, said that he's noticed a different "buzz" when talking with people about this year's squad than he did this time last year. Davis said he and his teammates are determined to avoid the trap of high expectations, however.
"Sometimes it creeps into your mind but I think we have a strong-minded team and we can look around those things and when we get onto the court it's a different story."
Gottfried will continue his RPI and fan-friendly scheduling, bringing John Cheney's Temple Owls into Coleman Coliseum as well as East Tennesee State, which was an NCAA tournament team last year. The Tide will play on the road at Wisconsin, and at Charlotte.
Alabama will face Alaska-Anchorage in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout, and could face any of the other teams in the tourney: Washington, Oklahoma, UMass, Minnesota, Utah, Furman and High point.