Rest assured that Coach Mark Gottfried and everyone else interested in Alabama basketball considered the wait well worth it. That's because Richard Hendrix of Athens turned 18 on Monday. And in addition to having candles to blow out, he had the task of making his previous commitment official by signing his scholarship papers to Bama.
Hendrix is one of four new members of the Alabama basketball family. And he is the biggest in many respects. The 6-9, 250-pound senior is ranked among the nation's top ten prospects. Alabama won out for his services against North Carolina. Going into his senior season at Athens High School, where he plays for his father, Vernard Hendrix, he is already the school record-holder in scoring (2,078), rebounding (1,289), blocked shots (467), and games started (100 consecutive). He led Athens to a 33-3 record and runner-up in Class 5A last year. He is a member of the National Honor Society with a 3.6 grade point average.
Dave Telep is considered to be the hardest-working and most knowledgeable man covering basketball recruiting. Telep, the basketball recruiting director for Scout.com, said, "Richard Hendrix will go down as one of the most important recruiting victories in the history of Alabama basketball. In beating UNC for Hendrix, Mark Gottfried staved off the stiffest competition out there.
"From a basketball standpoint, not only did they win the press conference, they took a commitment from a legitimate impact player on the college level. This is a double-double guy with a deep history of winning games. He will help their program take the next step."
Telep ranks Alabama as having the ninth best recruiting class in the nation in the early signing period.
Gottfried said, "Richard Hendirx is obviously a very well thought of player nationally. He's as good a person as he is a player. He's a big player who has great hands. He's versatile. He can score around the basket and away from the basket. He's just a very talented young man. And he'll walk in here weighing about 260 and ready to go. You have to remember that a guy like Erwin Dudley who left here weighing 260 came in at about 218."
Hendrix was not the only new signees drawing Gottfried's praise. Also signing with the Crimson Tide were:
Yamene Coleman, 6-10, 220, center, from Wilcox-Central High School in Camden; Alonzo Gee, 6-6, 205, power forward, from Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Florida; and Ray George, 6-4, 185, guard, a native of Decatur, Georgia, from Atlanta's Georgia Perimeter Community College.
Coleman, who hails from the school that sent Bama favorite Antoine Pettway to Alabama, averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds per game as a junior and helped lead his team to the 2003 state championship as a sophomore and to the state final four as a junior. Gottfried said he thinks Coleman will "develop into a great player at Alabama. He comes in with great size and a tremendous work ethic. He's a center who I think will blossom in our program."
Gee averaged 15 points, seven rebounds, and three assists last year as Dwyer won the Florida Class 5A state championship. He is a candidate for Mr. Basketball this year after making all-state tournament as a junior and being named MVP of the Adidas Showcase and making all-tournament at a national Las Vegas tournament. Gottfried said, "When we evaluated players from across the country last year, he moved to the top of the class as far as being a player who can shoot the ball from the perimeter and is just a great scorer. He will bring a lot to our team with his size and shooting ability."
George is ranked among the nation's top junior college combination guards. He averaged 21 points and 10 assists as a freshman last year and Georgia Perimeter made it to the national championship tournament. His team is ranked 15th in the nation this year and he has been named a pre-season All-America.
"Ray is one of the most athletic combo guards in the nation," Gottfried said. "I like the fact he led his team to Hutchinson (Kansas, site of the national junior college finals). He's a winner and a great athlete who has great basketball skills."
Gottfried said, "I'm excited about this class because we signed four quality students who are interested in graduating as well as four quality players who I think will be great additions to our basketball program."