There will be no "Midnight Madness" type event, just business as usual for Mark Gottfried and his Crimson Tide team. Friday night's practice is open to the public, as is Saturday morning's 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. practice session.
"I think, like everybody, we're excited about starting practice," Gottfried, who returns four starters from last year's NCAA tournament team, said Wednesday. "When you get to the middle of October, there's some anticipation in the air. Players are ready. The fans are getting ready. Our players have done a good job in the preseason with the weightlifting program and all the conditioning, and now it's time to get to that next step. We'll crank it up this weekend and get things started."
Back to lead the Tide is junior point guard Ronald Steele, touted as the nation's top point guard by CBSSportsLine.com earlier this month as well as a Street & Smith's All-American, Bob Cousey Award candidate and an Athlon's pick as the nation's top "floor leader."
"Ron is the epitome of what you want in a leader. He has the purest agenda of any player I've ever seen," Gottfried said.
Steele averaged 14.3 points and 4.3 assists per game for Alabama last season.
"He understands his position as a point guard as well as anybody," Gottfried said. "I think he gives our team a calming effect. When he's in the game there's a confidence level that our players have in Ron. He has worked hard to improve his game and has just become better and better. We need him to stay healthy. Last year in November and December he struggled a little bit with some issues with his back. When he got healthy, I thought from January to the end of the year he was as good as any point guard in the country, and we're anxious for him to get out there again this year."
Steele and 6-10 senior center Jermareo Davidson co-led Alabama in scoring in 2006 and were both voted All-Southeastern Conference for the second time in their careers. Also back from last season's starting lineup is sophomore forward Richard Hendrix, Freshman All-SEC in 2006, and sophomore guard Brandon Hollinger. The only other returning player with game experience is Alonzo Gee whose play last season off the bench earned him Freshman All-SEC honors in a vote by the league's coaches.
Three players who were redshirts in their first seasons last year will get their first chances at playing time, including redshirt freshman center Yamene Coleman, and walk-on forwards Greg Cage and John Dill. There are seven newcomers, including JUCO transfer Mykal Riley, a 6-6 forward from Panola JC and freshmen point guard Mikhail Torrance, guards Justin Tubbs and Verice Cloyd, and forwards Avery Jukes and Demetrius Jemison. Alabama will also have a walkon, guard Kyle Sellers of Tuscaloosa, who has transferred from Shelton State.
On October 30 at 7 p.m. Alabama will hold its annual Crimson & White game, which is an intra squad scrimmage. No admission is charged to that event. Alabama plays Division II team Montevallo in an exhibition game on November 4. Montevallo has been picked as high as No. 2 in the preseason and sports All-American Marcus Kennedy who was Steele's high school teammate at Birmingham's John Carroll Catholic High School. Tickets to that game are $5, though for those who purchase season tickets, that event is included free. Season tickets are on sale now at the Coleman Coliseum box office. Call 205-348-BAMA or order online at www.rolltide.com.