Saban Sets Example On Playing With Pain

Have you heard about the "other" NBA? The "Noontime Basketball Association?" You're about to. Turns out the games on TV now are not the only "March Madness" around. The "NBA" is playing too, and it's playing in Tuscaloosa. Confused?

Most days, around noon, Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban and staff get together for pick-up basketball games. This had been rumored for months, but it came to the forefront Saturday when Saban's regular post-practice interview session had just wrapped up. One enterprising reporter picked up on a small splint shining on the end of one of the coach's fingers, and while Saban was walking out of the room, the reporter asked if the media would be getting an injury report on the Tide head coach.

Maybe for the first time ever, a grinning Saban returned to the podium for one more answer.

That's when the explanation of the "NBA" came out, including the fact that Saban is the commissioner, thus giving him the right to pick and choose teams including who guards him, as Saban looked toward an impishly-grinning Associate AD for Football Media Relations Jeff Purinton.

It was during one such noon pick-up game this week that Saban hurt his finger.

"We were WIA. Know what means? ‘Wounded In Action,'" smiled the Tide coach, enjoying every minute. And, as he likes his football players to do when they suffer minor hurts, "We didn't' miss a play. We persevered. We were relentless. Nobody even knew about the finger."

("We," in this case, means "me," as in Saban.)

Thing was, that was the second hoops-related question Saban took, after first volunteering that he was quite impressed with his newest friend in the coaching profession, new Bama hoops coach Anthony Grant. The two visited twice Wednesday during Grant's nearly 10-hour Tuscaloosa tour, and the 57-year-old Saban immediately struck up a friendship as he got to know the 42-year-old Grant.

"I'm very pleased and excited that Anthony Grant is going to join The University of Alabama as our basketball coach," Saban said. "I was very impressed with him and his wife (Christina)..I just think the guy's got a lot of class. You can tell the guy's a ‘ball' guy. He's got high character. He's got integrity. He's a good teacher.

"It's very important that we support each other. In this day and age of 24-hour media, positive exposure in every sport is critical to taking advantage of what is out there. When you say ‘Alabama' and you say ‘Crimson Tide,' every one of those (positive) things sets an image. It's not just about football."

Grant will stand at the same podium Sunday night when he meets the Alabama media for the first time at a 6 p.m. news conference (not open to the public).

There was football talk Saturday, too. Saban was asked the obligatory questions about the quarterback race and the changing offensive line.

Of the race between junior Greg McElroy and redshirt freshman Star Jackson, Saban reported that he sees "improvement in both guys. Quarterback is a hard position to play unless everyone around you plays well. Receivers need to run better routes. We all need to develop, as a group."

Many players have practiced at multiple positions on the revamped Tide offensive line. That will continue until Saban, Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain, and Line Coach Joe Pendry determine the best five as a unit.

"I'm not worried about the line being settled," Saban said. "I've been pleased with the two newcomers (freshman guard Chance Warmack and junior college transfer James Carpenter, a left tackle), but they also have the greatest learning curve. We've put a lot of stuff in.

"When you're teaching, there's three things: what to do, how to do it (your technique) and understanding why it's important to do it that way. The more reps you get, that's what experience defines itself as."

Bama will practice Monday afternoon and then hold the first of three spring scrimmages Wednesday. That scrimmage will help Saban and staff determine things like "How do they go out and compete? Do they have that fight in them?"

When it comes to the Noontime Basketball Association, their coach certainly does, injured finger be darned.

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