Richard Hendrix is a 6-8, 265-pound freshman. On Christmas day, about 30 minutes before Alabama was scheduled to practice, Coach Mark Gottfried told Hendrix that he would be starting when Bama hosted Jackson State in Coleman Coliseum Tuesday.
"I really didn't expect it, but when Coach told me that he was going to give me the chance to start, I figured I would make the most of it. I knew that I would come out and give it all I had. Jackson State was a good game to start off."
Hendrix led all scorers with 23 points and all rebounders with a dozen, his second double-double in his 10-game college basketball career. He also led all players with four blocked shots, half of the eight turned in by Bama.
Alabama improved to 6-4 on the year while Jackson State fell to 4-7.
Bama has what Gottfried calls "a great challenge" coming up. The Crimson Tide will go to Norman, Oklahoma, to take on the eighth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners at 3:30 p.m. CST Saturday. ESPN will televise the game. A theme of the day will be a tribute to America's military, with empahsis on the summer basketball program in Kuwait, "Operation Hardwood," in which Gottfried and Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson, among others, worked a basketball camp for America's service personnel in the Gulf region.
Alabama started a big line-up for the first time this year with Hendrix replacing a wing player and joining senior Chuck Davis and junior Jermareo Davidson as post players. Soph point guard Ronald Steele and freshman wing Alonzo Gee completed the starting five.
All five starters finished in double figures in scoring. Davidson had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Davis 17 points and a surprising five assists, Gee 14 on six-of-eight shooting from the field, and Steele 11 points and six assists.
Davidson had one assist, and it was a nice pass to Hendrix which allowed the freshman to make an easy bucket and steal the game scoring honors from the man who made the assist, Davidson.
Everyone involved in the game agreed that Alabama's strong inside game was the difference. Alabama scored an astounding 58 points in the paint to 28 for Jackson State. Bama also took advantage of turnovers, scoring 30 points off Jackson State miscues while the Tigers had only nine points off Alabama's 12 turnovers.
Jackson State is coached by Tevester Anderson, who formerly served as an assistant to Gottfried at Murray State. Anderson was also a longtime assistant coach at Auburn. He said he knows Southeastern Conference basketball and that "Hendrix is going to be a monster in the SEC down the road. He's big, he's strong, and he's quick." Anderson also said he thinks Alabama is "not a 6-4 team. They are big and strong. They don't have many guards, but the ones they have are good."
Anderson said, "I knew Mark was serious about getting his team ready when he practiced Christmas night." And he finished his presentation to the media in the post-game with "Roll Tide!"
Gottfried said he was pleased with Alabama's high number of assists (21, to five for Jackson State) and that Bama caused a number of turnovers (the visiting Tigers had 18).
Jean Felix, who has started most games, had only six minutes of playing time. The senior did have the honor of canning a three-point shot with 46 seconds to play to get the Tide over the century mark. Felix had five points. Evan Brock returned to the line-up after having missed three games with an achilles injury and had six points.
Gottfried said he would continue to look at the big lineup "for awhile." He noted that Bama's 2005 team had "all the pieces," meaning a point guard, two scorers on the wings, and two good post men. This year there has been little scoring from one wing position, whether it be Felix or Justin Jonus.
Alabama trailed only once in the game, when Jackson State scored first for a 2-0 lead. The game was then tied once at 2-2 before the Tide took the lead for good. The Tide led by only 12 points, 42-30, at halftime, but had a 20-point lead with 15 minutes to play, a 30-point lead with 10 minutes remaining, and a 38-point lead with four minutes to play.
Alabama shot 59.4 per cent from the field (38 of 64) while holding Jackson State to 37.3 per cent on 25-67 shooting. Neither team shot well from three-point range, Bama 4-14 for 28.6 per cent and the Tigers 6-20, 30 per cent. After making only 6-13 first half free throws, Bama finished with 21-29 on 15 of 16 second half foul shooting. That was 72.4 per cent for the game. The Tide had a 42-33 rebounding edge after the teams were tied at 18 each in that category in the first half.
Tuesday's game went about as expected. On Saturday, Alabama will be an underdog against Oklahoma. "We don't have a ‘bad loss,' although any loss is bad," said Gottfried. "But we need a quality win. I think we are a hungry basketball team."