Bama basketball begins practice

Having won the SEC regular-season title last season, Crimson Tide basketball is definitely on the upswing. <br><br>Alabama returns four of its five starters from its 2002 NCAA tournament team, a team that finished No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.

"I think we're like everybody, we're excited to start basketball practice. It's that time of year," said the 2002 SEC Coach of the Year Mark Gottfried who begins his fifth season as the head coach at his Alma Mater. "The players are ready to go. I think they've done a good job through the summer and the spring and fall. I think they have been a pretty determined group of people all summer long in the off-season. I think they're satisfied with winning the league but not satisfied with how we want to finish. So there's a lot of motivation for them and for our program. We're excited to get started."

The Tide is touting Erwin Dudley for national Player of the Year honors. (AllSport)

With an SEC championship under his belt, Gottfried is understandably proud of what he's accomplished. But his goals for Bama basketball are even higher. "We're a lot farther along now than when I arrived," he noted. "We averaged 12-13,000 fans last year for our conference games. Winning the league certainly got everyone excited.

"The next step is to make it to the (NCAA) Final Four and play for a national championship. That's our goal."

The Tide will be led this season by national player of the year candidate, 6-9 senior power forward Erwin Dudley. Dudley, who played at around 255 pounds last season, is at 260 going into the start of his senior year. Alabama also returns senior starters 6-9, 230 pound center/forward Kenny Walker (9.2 ppg/5.5 rpg) and 6-2, 190 pound guard Terrance Meade (8.4 ppg/3.1 rpg). Together with Dudley (15.2 ppg/8.9 rpg), the trio has been starters since the first games of their freshman season.

"Those are all major players," Gottfried said. "They know our philosophy and what we're trying to accomplish. They've played together since they were freshman, and they know what to do."

Sophomore point guard Mo Williams 6-1, 185 pound (10.4 ppg/3.9 rpg) is the fourth returning starter. As a true freshman and was named SEC Freshman of the Year by both the AP and SEC Coaches.

"Mo had a great summer," Gottfried said. "He played extremely well last year, but neither he nor I were happy with his shooting percentage. He's worked on his shot very hard this summer. He and Erwin are the two natural leaders of this team."

Alabama returns veteran guards Earnest Shelton (6.1 ppg), Demetrius Smith and Antoine Pettway (6.5 ppg) and forward Reggie Rambo. Newcomers to the Crimson Tide this season include two players who were redshirts last season, 6-foot-6 guard/forward Lucky Williams who prepped at Birmingham's Central Park Christian and guard Jason Reese who transferred from UAB. Emmett Thomas, a 6-4, 205 pound forward is a JUCO transfer from Bevill State who played his freshman season at the University of South Alabama.

"I think it's a very athletic team," Gottfried said. "It's a deep team. The way we finished last year in the NCAAs will be a motivation. There is a lot of pride on this team, and the players have talked about that among themselves."

Along with Dudley, sophomore point guard Mo Williams will lead the Tide team. (AllSport)

The freshman class includes 6-9, 190 pound forward Evan Brock of Roswell, Georgia, 6-8, 230 pound forward Chuck Davis of Selma, and 6-foot-7, 200 pound forward Kennedy Winston of Mobile.

"Although some of the guys are young; I do think they can help us," Gottfried said. "The good news is that (with Bama's returning veterans), they don't have to carry the load. But at the same time I think we have some options. Hopefully no one will get hurt, but if someone were to, it seems like we have a few more people we could go to."

Alabama fans can meet Williams, Gottfried and the Tide's coaching staff and players next Saturday morning, October 18. The team will hold a fan jam in Coleman Coliseum prior to the Ole Miss football game. The team will have an autograph session from 9:45 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. CT. From 10:30 a.m. to around 11:30 a.m. the men's and women's teams will take to the floor and entertain fans with some basketball drills. The event is free.

Alabama opens its season on November 14 in Madison Square Garden against Oklahoma. Alabama's home season tickets are on sale now. Visit to order or call (205) 348-BAMA.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Becky Hopf of The University of Alabama Media Relations department contributed greatly to this report.

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