News On Steele Is Encouraging

It doesn't take much to get Alabama beat writers out to hear anything from anyone in the summer when stories are hard to come by. Have the Crimson Tide men's basketball coach and combine it with the vittles from the very fine Cypress Inn Restaurant (Gottfried's treat) and it makes for a good day.

On Wednesday Alabama Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried invited the media to Cypress Inn to provide a summer update on the Crimson Tide basketball team. There has been some news in the off-season, including staff changes, and Gottfried introduced those men in new jobs. There are some summer all-star opportunities, including one plum for Gottfried.

There was the annual good news about academics as Gottfried's players continue to earn degrees.

There was an update on players on campus, including all three newcomers.

And most important, there was encouraging news about Ronald Steele. Steele, the Crimson Tide's all-star point guard who was mostly a bench-warmer in his junior season. Following Bama's disappointing 20-12 season, Steele had arthrscopic surgery on both knees. On April 3 Dr. Lyle Cain of the famed Dr. Jim Andrews surgical team repaired small cartilage defects in both knees.

"We're coming up on 10 weeks since Ron Steele had surgery on both knees," Gottfried said. "We got a report from Dr. Jim Andrews and Dr. Lyle Cain. Jim Andrews said Ron is doing very well. Ron has been released to do a little more -- shooting and light jogging. He is upbeat and positive. It is real encouraging. He is such a leader, the heart and soul of our team."

Gottfried acknowledged that last year was not satisfactory. Projected as a potential national championship contender, without a full-strength Steele and with a distracted Jermareo Davidson, the Tide slipped to post-season play in the NIT.

"We've got a long way to go," Gottfried said. "Everyone understands that. We have to coach better and the players have to play better. We were not near where we wanted to be. Nobody was pleased. Everyone has to do a lot better."

The players are working towards that goal. All but one -- Alonzo Gee, who is spending the summer at his home in Palm Beach, Florida -- is on campus, playing basketball and lifting every day.

That includes three freshmen signees. Guard Senario Hillman of Irwinton, Georgia, forward Justin Knox of Tuscaloosa, and guard Rico Pickett of Decatur are on campus. Gottfried and the coaches cannot watch them in pick up basketball games, but the Tide coach said "We are getting good reports from (Strength Coach) Terry Jones and from the academic staff and they are doing a good job in those areas. They are getting adjusted to college."

Two Tiders have recently returned from all-star trips to China. Demetrius Jemison and Mikhail Torrance, both upcoming sophomores, had that international experience.

Two others hope to play in a more prestigious international setting. Junior fowards Richard Hendrix and Gee will be among 30 players competing for 12 spots on the United States team for the Pan-Am Games. They will be at Hanover College in Philadelphia beginning July 11. If they make the team, one of their coaches will be Gottfried, who was selected for the honor earlier this year.

Gottfried said he and the other coaches would have some input in the selection of the team, but that it was primarily in the hands of a U.S. Basketball committee.

Gottfried has a sensational record of having his players earn degrees. Although Davidson (who was allowed to drop classes last fall after the traumatic effects of the deaths of both his brother and his girlfriend) has not yet earned his degree, all other players who have completed their eligibility have also earned degrees since Gottfried became head coach at The Capstone in 1998.

On Wednesday, Gottfried announced that the two upcoming seniors on this year's squad -- Steele and Mykal Riley -- are both on track to earn their degrees in December, in three and a half years of college.

Gottfried said he had been in contact with Davidson and with NBA teams. He said Davidson had worked out with at least a dozen teams in an attempt to help his status for the NBA draft on June 28.

Gottfried said he had not spoken to Florida Coach Billy Donovan since Donovan's return from his brief employment as head coach of the Orlando Magic. "I think it's great for our league that he's back," Gottfried said.

Gottfried noted that he will be beginning his 10th year as Alabama's head basketball coach this season. He said this year in his dealings with the national media he senses that nationally the Southeastern Conference is recognized as the nation's best basketball league.

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