Basketball Practice Begins Friday

The countdown to the 2007-08 collegiate basketball season officially begins on Friday. The University of Alabama and hundreds of other Division I teams will hit the floor for the first official practice.

Mark Gottfried, who begins his 10th season as The University of Alabama's head men's basketball coach, will hold practice at Coleman Coliseum at 7 p.m. CDT Friday. Practice is open to the public.

Unlike most teams, Alabama has gotten its own sneak preview of its 2007-08 squad. The Crimson Tide went to Ottawa, Canada on Labor Day weekend, playing four games in three days against Canadian universities. The trip gave Alabama's team a chance to play against good competition and it also gave the Tide 10 additional NCAA-sanctioned days of practice leading up to the trip.

"I think that trip gives us a little bit of a head-start," said Tide junior All-Southeastern Conference forward Richard Hendrix. "We got a chance to play with each other in Canada, and hopefully now that we're starting practice, we can correct a lot of mistakes that we had early on in that trip and it can help us get right to business."

Three newcomers make their official practice debuts on Friday night, freshman guards Rico Pickett and Senario Hillman and forward Justin Knox.

"I'm not that nervous anymore about starting up because we took that trip to Canada and we've already gotten a chance to practice together," said Hillman, a Parade All-America out of Irwinton, Ga. "Basically, I think I've got everything down, I've just got to keep working hard to improve. Canada helped me learn that you've got to be ready to come play every day because everybody on the college level can play. And you've got to play hard. I want to work on, in my game, coming out of the screen, shooting and just playing hard-nosed defense. I also learned a lot about my team. I love my team. Everybody is cool to hang around off the court and on the court. And when we're on the court, everybody is about business. That's what I like about this team."

Alabama finished the 2007 season with a 20-12 overall record, advancing to postseason in the NIT. It must replace four-year starter and All-Southeastern Conference center Jermareo Davidson who is now with the Charlotte Bobcats. And it must also fill large shoes at point guard where 2007 AP preseason All-American Ronald Steele ruled the court. Steele will take a redshirt senior season to fully recover from arthroscopic surgeries on both knees on April 3 and a follow-up procedure on the left knee on August 23. It returns full-time starters Hendrix and Alonzo Gee and part-time starters Mykal Riley, Brandon Hollinger and Mikhail Torrance. Torrance and the freshman, Pickett, are vying for the point guard role.

"I think everybody is excited this time of year. I know we are," said Gottfried Thursday at the team's preseason media day. "We just want to get started. I talked to a bunch of my colleagues today, and they're all anxious to get going with their teams and we're in that same boat. Our players are ready to go. I think we've got a lot of work to do. We learned a lot about our team on this trip to Canada. We had 10 practices and four games. I think just from a preparation standpoint, that's been good in that it's given us some things that we want to attack right away in practice. We know where we feel like we weren't as good in some areas as we'd like. And there are areas where we felt like we were a little ahead. That trip was good for us because it gave us a head start on knowing what we need to place emphasis on when we start.

"We've got a long way to go. I've got a lot of concerns in regard to how good we can be. I think a lot of things would have to happen right for us to have a really good season, one of those being no more injuries and keeping everybody healthy. Without Ron Steele in there you don't feel like you can afford another player not to play. So that's going to make it difficult. But I think overall, this is my 10th year at Alabama, and I'm excited about what we've done and I'm anxious to rectify some things from last year and hopefully be a lot better than we were last year in January and February."

Alabama's first dress rehearsal for the season will be on Tuesday, October 30 at 6 p.m. CDT when it hosts the Crimson and White game, an intrasquad, in Coleman Coliseum. There's no admission charged for that event, and, since it falls around Halloween, kids and UA students are encouraged to dress for Halloween and take part in a costume contest at halftime that will be judged by the Tide players. After the game, the players and coaches will hold an autograph session.

Alabama will play North Alabama in an exhibition game on Monday, November 5 at 7 p.m. CT (tickets are $5), and it officially opens the season against Troy on Friday, November 9.

Season tickets are on sale now. Ticket information is available on Alabama's official website,

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