Alabama Basketball Players Shape Up

Former NFL and Bama noseguard Terry Jones may be a candidate for Southeastern Conference Basketball Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year, if such an award exists. Why? Due to the job he's done overall on Mark Gottfried's Tide this off-season, with two particular cases in point.

Exhibit A: Richard Hendrix, the only sure starter in the post for Alabama this year. The 6-foot-7 junior from Athens checked in at 273 pounds around the time of this past summer's Pan-Am trials, according to his head coach, who served as an assistant on that squad. "I thought Richard was one of the most skilled big guys (at the trials)," Gottfried noted. "He's a better basketball player, from a skills standpoint, than a lot of guys. One of the reasons, he and I have talked about, that he didn't make that team was his (in)ability to transfer up and down the floor, continually, and his conditioning. I think when he came back from Philadelphia (where the trials were held), I think he's done a very good job. We're trying to get him to the point where he can be consistently good, for longer periods of time."

Now? Hendrix looks like a different person at a svelte 253. "Richard's been really good here, in two years, I think," said Gottfried. "My message to Richard consistently is, ‘I don't won't you to be just good. I want you to great. I want you to be a dominating player.'

"Richard's had a lot of foul trouble issues, and conditioning issues," said Gottfried. "We're trying to get him to the point where he can really be consistently good, for longer periods of time. I think that when that happens, he takes another step up in his improvement. That's been more of an emphasis with Richard than anything else."

"Its something I've faced my whole life," said Hendrix of body weight issues. "I've never been that guy with that skinnny body. Its something that I have to work on."

And work on it, he has.

Exhibit B: True freshman Justin Knox of Tuscaloosa, who is still 6-9, but has put on 25 pounds of muscle since June. Knox reported at around 215 pounds. He's now 240. "I haven't grown (taller) since high school, but I have put on a lot of pounds," Knox said. "I have to thank our strength coach for that, Terry Jones. I've just been working (out) all summer, every day, because I knew I was going to put on some pounds, since the SEC is very physical league."

Knox added that he's thrilled to be playing college ball in the same town he prepped in. "Everybody's proud of me in my hometown, and ready to come see me play, " he said with a grin. Knox credits Hendrix for being a big help. "Richard's been a mentor, every since I came for an official visit," said Knox. "He's like a big brother to the whole team, really."

After traveling with the Tide on its pre-season journey to Canada, Knox appears poised to push both 6-7 sophomore Demetrius Jemison and 6-foot-9 soph Yamene Coleman for playing time inside opposite Hendrix. Knox impressed his teammates and coaches on that junket. "He's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," said Gottfried. "He's eager, and he wants to do well. "

Hendrix said the trip did all concerned good and provided a jump-start for fall practice when it begins Friday. "It was a good experience," said Hendrix who scored 67 points and had 30 rebounds in his three games played in Canada. "It gave us the opportunity to kind of find ourselves and gives us a bar to work toward before the season starts. We saw a lot of people play who haven't played before and it gave us a little more of an opportunity to gel. It was a good experience in Canada. We learned from the loss that we have to better ourselves to be more prepared when we play teams that resemble a team like Carleton (the only team that beat Bama, and Canada's two-time defending collegiate champ). And on top of that, we were fortunate to get the chance to visit another country and learn a little something about Canada and its beauty and its culture."

Jemison and fellow soph Mikhail Torrance made another international trip as the duo played on an all-star team that traveled to China. Both said the trip helped, and Torrance plans to use what he learned to try and win the starting point guard job while Ron Steele redshirts. "I'm trying to take on more of a leadership role," he said. "I'm just doing whatever coach (Gottfried) tells me to do. Whatever I can do to help the team out."

As for Steele, he doesn't plan to play, but won't‚ rule out a possible return to action mid-season if his health and the timing are right. "I'm going to try to work hard," he said. "You can never rule out any possibilities. I'll never say never." Should Steele stick with his plan to redshirt and get healthy for next season, he feels the Tide offense is in good hands with Torrance and true freshman Rico Pickett. "They're both playing really well. They're really talented, both of them. I think we'll be in good shape."

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