Gottfried says his team is ready

If the Alabama men's basketball team had to start its season tonight, Earnest Shelton would be in the starting line-up. But Bama doesn't start tonight. The Crimson Tide opens its season -- at least its exhibition season -- when Alabama hosts the EA Sports All-Stars at 7 p.m. Friday in Coleman Coliseum. And Bama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said his team is "ready to go."

Gottfried said Tuesday that he doesn't see any chance that four players will not start Friday. They are returning starters Erwin Dudley (last year's Southeastern Conference Player of the Year) at strong forward, Kenny Walker at center, Terrance Meade at wing guard, and Mo Williams at point guard. One of a number of combinations -- and the one Alabama's media release predicts -- is Shelton starting in a three-guard offense. "Earnest has some good qualities, notably his good outside shooting," Gottfried said.

The EA Sports team is the first of two exhibition games the Tide will play before regular season play begins. The Tide will play Athletes in Action on Thursday, November 7 at Coleman Coliseum. Bama opens for real play in a big way on November 14 in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York against Oklahoma. Both Bama and Oklahoma have received high pre-season rankings. Gottfried noted that Oklahoma has a three-guard line-up, which might influence how Bama plays in its exhibition games. But, Gottfried added, preparation for Oklahoma might include the use of guard Demetrius Smith in the line-up because of Smith's strong defensive play.

And Gottfried also mentioned the possibility of highly-regarded freshman wing player Kennedy Winston for the starting five. Gottfried said the 6-7, 200-pound Winston is "very talented offensively. He's very coachable. If we make a point in practice, he picks it up quickly. He's done everything we've asked of him."

Gottfried said the concern about a freshman playing the small forward position "is whether he is ready to defend the guy at his position at this level." The Tide coach pointed out at in college, the small forward is frequently the most athletic player.

Although there have been rumors suggesting Winston's eligibility is being questioned, Gottfried said he didn't expect any problems, then added he had been instructed not to address that situation.

Another signee, junior Emmett Thomas, a 6-4 wing player, has been very impressive, Gottfried said. Thomas, a junior college transfer, played as a freshman at South Alabama, and Gottfried pointed out that Thomas had played very well in games against Indiana and Auburn. He said that Thomas is missing some work as he recovers from summer shoulder surgery.

One problem with exhibition games is that if a player performs in an exhibition game he is no longer eligible to be redshirted (other than an injury redshirt in the first few games of the season). Gottfried said it is a bad rule that will force him to make a decision on whether to hold out any player or players before the team has had even three weeks of practice. There have been suggestions that freshman Evan Brock, 6-9 but only 190, might be redshirted this year.

Gottfried said that Winston and inside player Chuck Davis were ahead of Brock among the true freshmen. Davis, 6-8, 230, will be an inside back-up, although Gottfried said that currently returning junior Reggie Rambo (6-7, 220) would be the first inside substitute.

Although Gottfried admitted the team is very deep this year, perhaps 12 or 13 players deep, he said, "All coaches revert back to what they are comfortable with. We are deeper. But I don't know if you can play 12 or 13 because then the top six or seven can't get into any kind of rhythm. We'll just have to see which ones emerge."

Historically, Gottfried has used a rotation of seven or eight men. But, he said, competition has been good.

Gottfried said one notable area of improvement has been the shooting of sophomore point guard Mo Williams.

Last year Alabama won the SEC Championship, then was ousted from the NCAA Tournament by Kent State. The Tide coach said the goal of the team is to advance as far as possible in the NCAA Tournament. "We want to be the best we can be," he said. "The players want to have a good year. They are very committed to that."

Gottfried said he expected the Western Division of the SEC to be very balanced. He said some might list LSU as a sleeper, but he thinks LSU has excellent talent, as does Mississippi State. He noted that Mississippi "has been good for several years" and that Auburn plays mostly young players last season and should be improved. He said the question mark is Arkansas, where Nolan Richardson quit as head coach last year.

BamaMag Top Stories