Ron Steele, Alabama's best basketball player and considered by many to be the best point guard in college this year, has already missed three games and has been hampered in others as the Crimson Tide has forged an 8-1 record. And this is on top of last year's sophomore season when he was limited by a back injury.
Alabama has not played the most rigorous schedule this year, which has enabled Steele to get some rest. However, prior to Saturday night's 92-58 romp over Alabama State, in which Steele was not dressed out and did not play, Crimson Tide Coach Mark Gottfried had said doctors had recommended Steele play as much as possible. That's when the only problem was tendonitis in Steele's right knee.
In Alabama's only loss of the year, at Notre Dame last week, Steele added to his and Bama's misery when he suffered a severe sprain of the left ankle. "When you have an injury to the knee, it can affect your balance," Gottfried said. "Ronald rolled an ankle at South Bend. In the last few minutes of that game he could barely move."
That coincided with Bama cutting the lead to three points and having the basketball with three minutes to play, and yet getting blown out, 99-85.
"He's going to need some time," Gottfried said. "It's hard on our team. We haven't had a full roster of players for many days since we started practice. Hopefully we'll get him back soon."
While Alabama can win a lot of games without Steele, and even without senior center Jermareo Davidson (who has missed two games, including Saturday's Alabama State contest), Gottfried pointed out that it is not good for the team to be without the starters. "You need to have your group playing together," the coach said. "When you don't have that, it's hard to develop a good team rhythm. We don't want this to carry on into January and February. So far we've survived it for the most part, but it's not what we need for our team."
Although Steele was limited at times last season, he started every game in his freshman and sophomore year, 63 in a row. Last year he was an All-Southeastern Conference performer and was honorable mention All-America. He was ninth in the SEC in scoring and the league statistical leader in free throw percentage and minutes played.
This year he is averaging 12.7 points and five assists in the six games he has played, but he is shooting only 42.4 per cent.
When he is out, Alabama has used Brandon Hollinger at point guard and Mykal Riley on the wing. Freshman Mikhail Torrance is beginning to get more playing time as a back-up point guard. When Steele is playing, he is the point working with either Hollinger or Riley.
Gottfried was pleased that in Steele's absence against Alabama State that Hollinger, Riley and Torrance combined for 13 assists with no turnovers.
Alabama was ranked third in the nation by Scout.com, fourth by the Associated Press, and fifth in the coaches' poll conducted by ESPN and USA Today before losing to Notre Dame last week. Bama returns to action this week in Mobile in a special event in which South Alabama meets Ole Miss at 5 p.m. CST, followed by the Crimson Tide vs. Southern Miss at approximately 7:30 p.m.