Ron Steele Being Held Out

Mark Gottfried gets a sneak peek at his 2007-08 University of Alabama basketball squad on Sunday night. The Crimson Tide is taking a Labor Day weekend trip to Ottawa, Canada, to play four exhibition games in three days and is allotted 10 practice days leading to the trip. The first of those will be Sunday evening.

Alabama Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried said that senior All-Southeastern Conference point guard Ronald Steele will not play in the games in Canada. Steele is expected to have made a full recovery by the season but is not 100 per cent right now after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees on April 3 to repair small cartilage defects.

When asked how much Steele will participate, Gottfried said, "Very little. And he will not play in the games. I'm not going to play him. He may practice some but I don't think that he has been fully released yet to go full-speed, 100 per cent. We'll kind of watch it but I don't anticipate him playing."

Steele, who started 2006-07 as an AP pre-season All-America, marking him as one of the top five players in college basketball, was sidelined much of the season because of the knees and a severe ankle sprain he sustained in December in a game at Notre Dame. He played in only 26 of Alabama's 32 games.

Expected to step in at point guard for the trip will be sophomore Mikhail Torrance, junior Brandon Hollinger and freshman Rico Pickett.

"All of them. We'll look at all of them," said Gottfried. "We need to be prepared to play either way. We've recruited and hopefully we're adequate at that position."

Gottfried said, "I think this is a good opportunity for teams in college basketball to work on some things, look at your teams early. The NCAA rule that allows teams to go once every four years is a good rule. We went to the Bahamas four years ago. It's just a good opportunity to try some things, to look at different combinations of players, maybe experiment with some things offensively or defensively. It gives you 10 extra practices where you get time with your team on the floor. A number of teams have really taken advantage of it.

"I think Villanova is going to be with us in Ottawa playing some of the same teams on different days. They'll be a part of the same trip. I'm looking forward to getting practice started Sunday. We'll use these practices wisely. You get 10 days. We've got a lot of work with our guys and just try to really take advantage of that as best we can."

Alabama will have to hold its first two practices without its three newcomers. The NCAA does not allow freshmen to participate until fall classes officially begin. Alabama freshmen Rico Pickett, Senario Hillman and Justin Knox will step on the floor for the first time with their teammates on Wednesday as classes begin at The University that day.

"I think this will be very good for them," said Gottfried. "They get to be a part of practice. They'll get an understanding of what practice actually is, how hard or difficult or physical it is, and how different it is from high school. So they get their feet wet as far as just learning what to expect in practice for a couple of weeks.

"Plus they get to play. We want to play those guys a lot on this trip. And some of the younger guys even from a year ago that maybe didn't play as much, we want to look at all of those guys, use this as an opportunity for them, too, to show what they can do. And another part of it that I like is, as a coach, there are always a couple of things here and there you want to play with in your mind. You'd like to try this or try that. A lot of times when you're in the heart of your season, that's not really when you want to try to do it. So a trip like this gives you that opportunity to look at a few other things, too. We like that about the trip."

Alabama will play the four exhibition games against Canadian college teams. Two games will be played on Saturday, September 1, one on Sunday, and the final game on Monday, September 3.

In August of 2003, Gottfried took his Alabama team to Nassau to play five games against Bahamian teams, including the national and junior national teams. That was the year Alabama faced replacing 2002 SEC Player of the Year Erwin Dudley, and his fellow four-year starters center Kenny Walker and guard Terrance Meade. Mo Williams, now a starter with the Milwaukee Bucks, had just exited for the NBA after his sophomore year. Chuck Davis was heading into his sophomore season after sitting on the bench with little play as a freshman since he was back-up in 2003 to Dudley, then a senior.

Seven months after that August Bahamas trip, it was March and Alabama was playing for a spot in the Final Four, ending a Cinderella run through the 2004 NCAA tournament at the Elite 8 and knocking off the then defending national champions (Syracuse) as well as the tournament's number one seed (Stanford) along the way before eventual national champion UConn stopped the run in the Phoenix Regional final. And Davis exited the regional as a member of its all-tournament team.

"I think this kind of trip is good for younger teams more than older teams," said Gottfried. "It gives younger guys an opportunity to play in games and create an identity that maybe they haven't had yet. You go back to us when we went in the summer of 2003, and we had just lost Dudley, Meade, and Walker, veteran seniors. Chuck Davis hadn't played at all in college. He'd played maybe 18 minutes the entire season before. We'd lost Mo Williams, so now (Antoine) Pettway has to be the point. It gives that team a chance to work together, to play together. I think it probably helps younger teams more than it helps veteran teams."

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