Among those nestled on a couch someone brought and "shooting the breeze" with a group of about 20 students after lunch on Thursday afternoon was Crimson Tide head coach Mark Gottfried.
In addition to the football Homecoming activities, all Alabama basketball fans will want to come to Coleman Coliseum on Saturday morning to get the public's first peek at the team that is the preseason favorite to repeat as Southeastern Conference champions and rank among the nation's top ten.
Alabama's coaches and players, including All-American Erwin Dudley, will sign autographs from 9:30 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. At 10:15 the players will slip into the locker room and their Alabama uniforms and return to the floor of Coleman Coliseum.
For the first time in years, Alabama will be a veteran unit. Among the returnees is 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.
As Player of the Year, Dudley accomplished about as much as an athlete can last year in the SEC, but he's feeling no pressure. "I want to repeat it," Dudley acknowledged. "A lot of people have been kind enough to let me know that they're pulling for me to repeat it. But I've got to just go out and play and not worry about it, let everything take care of itself."
Last season the Tide snuck up on some teams, but heading into this season the pundits are picking Alabama to repeat. "The expectations have gone up a lot more since last season," said Dudley who won both the AP and the SEC Coaches SEC Player of the Year award in 2002. "I guess that's a driving force for us as a team, to want to go out there and do better, practice harder. "We didn't really change anything up as far as our preparation this summer. We just want to go out and prove ourselves in case there's anybody out there who maybe thought we were a fluke or something.
"We want to prove that we're just as good as we were last year and have worked to make ourselves even better."
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.
Along with Dudley, Walker expects to be a team leader. "Last year we went through practice with a purpose, and that purpose was to make it to the NCAA (tournament)," Walker explained. "I think our purpose this year is even greater."
This year's goal is the Final Four. "We know what we need to do this year," Walker said. "We've got the same people returning for the most part and the people who are coming in are really going to add to this team a great deal. Our purpose this year is to hopefully make the Final Four. We expect nothing less than that. You have to approach the season that way. And, Lord bless, you want to win the championship.
Four of five starters return from last season's championship team. "We have senior leadership and the juniors coming up are leaders themselves," Walker said. "The youngsters, they're contributing, and they know what they need to do. They need to step up. We're looking forward to having great things happen this year."
Terrance Meade believes this year's squad can be even better. "I think we have a great chemistry. The guys really love each other. We do. So I think it's going to be a good team on and off the court."
For the second year in a row Bama's squad has worked hard over the summer in Tuscaloosa on their conditioning. "Everybody made a concentrated effort to improve themselves during the off season," Meade said. "We know what it takes now, and we're gradually improving so we can do what we need to do to take that next step."
Including an early season matchup against Oklahoma on the road, the Tide's schedule will be demanding. "I love the schedule," Meade said. "Coach (Mark) Gottfried did a great job of scheduling teams. He's playing the best teams and it's really going to make us a better team later on in the season and it's going to help us progress in the NCAA tournament."
Last year as a true freshman, Mo Williams, 6-1, 185 pounds, stepped in to handle the point guard position, providing the missing piece of the puzzle for Alabama. He quickly established himself as one of the premier point guards in the nation, but he acknowledges plenty of room for improvement. "This year I know what's going on. I know what to expect. I know how to prepare. The maturity level is at another level."
He's only a sophomore, but Williams is comfortable directing Bama's offense. "That's the thing I want to improve upon this season and work on, my maturity level on the court," Williams said. "During the summer I worked on every aspect of my game, defense, worked on getting my legs stronger, my shot, just the whole aspect of the game."
After the Tide's first day of practice this week, Williams commented on the squad's play. "We've got to do a better job executing but it was the first day back so that's to be expected," he said. "You can't come in from the summer just free lance playing and know execution, know running plays. You can't come in and run the plays perfect the first day.
"Overall, I'd grade us a 'B-plus' because we've got a lot of improvement to go before the first day of the season."
He's only a freshman, but Winston is expected to play early and often. "The freshmen are real excited to finally get it going, get out and see what the offense is looking like, see the defense, see what the players are looking like," Winston said. "We've been conditioning a while and now we're ready to get out on the floor and get things going."
The doors to Coleman Coliseum will open at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. University of Alabama students, with their UofA student ID, can then register to join "Mark's Madness" and purchase their reserved student ticket. For $10 the students get membership, season tickets and a "Mark's Madness" tee-shirt. The reserved seats for the group's section in Coleman Coliseum are sold in order of arrival in line. The first student who arrived will get the first seat in the first row, and so on. Last year nearly 700 Alabama students joined the group that is the largest student organization on campus.
The Alabama women's basketball team and head coach Rick Moody, who led the Tide women to the 1994 NCAA Final Four, will be introduced at 10:30 tomorrow. That will be followed by the introduction of the men's team. The men's team will then run through drills, hold a light five-on-five scrimmage and join in a three-point shooting contest with the Tide women's team's best long shooters. The event will end around 11:30, giving fans plenty of time to get to Bryant-Denny and the 2:30 p.m. Alabama-Ole Miss football game.
Season basketball tickets are on sale now. Call (205) 348-BAMA or log on to www.rolltide.com to order. Alabama's home season schedule includes hosting Kentucky, Providence and Xavier, among others. Alabama will host exhibition games against EA Sports (November 1) and Athletes in Action (November 7) before it officially opens its season in New York at Madison Square Garden against Oklahoma on November 14. The official home opener is Alabama State on Friday, November 22, the eve of the Alabama-Auburn football game.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Becky Hopf of Alabama Media Relations made major contributions to this story.