Turning to Mark in Nick of time

Nick Saban is here. Alabama football fans have rejoiced. Crimson Tide football, slapped around by media pundits due to self-broiling, strikes back. The facilities are in place, the coffers are loaded, and the people with the purse strings feeling generous. It was time to pair the sparkling facilities and the tradition with a coach who could match.

It is now time for Alabama football to reclaim its rightful spot in the college football galaxy, right?

Tide football fans should hope that shaping a consistent winner comes easier for Saban than assembling his first coaching staff. But let's not rush to judge there. Saban says he doesn't want to make mistakes in hiring his people, so we'll grant him that. He's got the record to support his methods, and potential assistants know his reputation as a stern taskmaster devoted to long hours. These are heavy issues to weigh.

All the answers to the most burning questions regarding Saban and Alabama football will be revealed in the coming weeks, months and (maybe) years.

Meanwhile, if you hadn't noticed, a packed crowd was on hand at Coleman Coliseum to welcome Mark Gottfried's basketball team to the SEC home season on Tuesday. Saban's appearance at halftime to make a $100,000 scholarship donation was simply a bonus event, a sidebar to the marquee show.

Though the pieces have yet to begin falling precisely in place, this might be the team that breaks the next barrier for Gottfried and Crimson Tide basketball.

The promise is there, but there is oh so much room for improvement.

Jermareo Davidson, sidetracked by personal tragedies, is not himself yet. He's got to add some weight and remember where he does his best work -- down low.

If I'm Gottfried, I show him tape of last year's Kentucky game every day. The drop step, spin moves, thunderous shows of strength to the rack were all on display for Davidson that night.

Ronald Steele isn't himself with that high ankle sprain, and he's still helping the Tide rack up wins. This seven-day layoff between games should help him more than any other Alabama player. His health is the key if Alabama is to qualify for its second regional semifinal appearance under Gottfried.

Alonzo Gee runs hot and cold. The Tide must find a way to smooth out the performance levels, and make sure he touches the ball in transition every night. Gee won't shoot the 3 the way he did against LSU every night, so he has to be able to get to the rim.

Mykal Riley. Who would have thought this kid would fit in so seamlessly to the Alabama effort? More than his scoring prowess and three-point potential, Riley's solid defense and heavy-traffic rebounding have been close to jaw-dropping for a junior college transer. Riley is easily the best transfer of the Gottfried era and one of the best newcomers in the south this season.

The glue to Alabama's 14-2 start has been burly sophomore Richard Hendrix. Some have criticized his deep-post ballhandling and strength, but his display against LSU knocked off most of that rap.

Did you see that flat-footed one-hand jam of a putback he perpetrated? That was a resounding exclamation point it pushing the Tide's lead back to 11 points with 5:55 to play, and was probably the play that sealed LSU's fate.

More than that show of force, Hendrix put a repertoire of low-post moves on LSU's Glen ``Big Baby'' Davis, who might just lead the nation in creative paint displays.

Hendrix cashed in a standard head fake plus harm for a three-point play. He backed Big Baby up, spun and put in a soft-touch jumper. He whirled and hammered in a short bank shot.

That was a defining game for the big guy, who had enough shots rejected by Arkansas big men Steven Hill and Darian Townes that it could have sent him into a shell.

Instead, Hendrix showed a load of mettle, the kind Alabama is going to need on Wednesday at Vanderbilt.

After the debacle at Bud Walton, this team is showing signs of putting it all together. A win against the Commodores, a team that has simply given Gottfried's clubs fits over the years, would be a vivid indication this team could indeed be something special.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributor to ‘BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com

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