The near-capacity crowd had hardly settled into their seats, before Kennedy Winston came in off the bench. And on Bama's very next offensive possession the stellar wingman was at the free throw line, having drawn the foul on a dribble penetration. "I wanted to get him sweating and loose right away," Gottfried said. "I thought he did very well."
"I was a little nervous at first," Winston admitted. "But I settled down. I had been thinking about the game ever since they told me that I could play. I tried to just come in and play my game."
If butterflies bothered the true freshman, he certainly didn't show it, calmly netting both free throws to help jump start the Tide offense. "We all can see that he's going to be a guy that can get to the foul line," Gottfried said. "We've been lacking that from the wing position."
Alabama's "Mr. Basketball" his senior season in high school, Winston is an excellent offensive player, as effective driving to the basket as he is draining jump shots from the outside. But his Crimson debut was delayed until Wednesday as the NCAA investigated problems associated with his AAU basketball career.
While forced to sit out the Tide's first 11 games, Winston tried to make the best of a bad situation. "It was tough watching my team play," he acknowledged, "knowing I could be out there helping them. But I looked at it as more time for me to get better. I tried to not let it frustrate me."
Gottfried talked about the problems presented by Winston's late start. "I think Kennedy can develop into a key guy for us, but that's hard. It's hard for a veteran to miss like that--let alone a freshman. The problem is he's missed November and December. His first time to put the uniform on and catch the ball he's playing against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
"My intention is get him in there, and I think he can become a very good player."
Of course his teammates practiced with him all summer and fall, so they already knew about Winston's skills. "He can handle the ball and run the offense, also," Tide point guard Mo Williams explained. "That's a plus and a benefit for me. Having Kennedy and Antoine Pettway, then we can get into our offense that much quicker. Kennedy can rebound, score and hit the open man.
"I think he can help us out a lot."
Playing just 12 minutes, Winston totaled two assists, two rebounds, one steal and six points, including 4-of-6 from the free throw line. He talked about his first game, "I was just trying to get my feet wet, trying to get used to the flow of the game and help my team win. It was a good experience for the first game. I'll be looking to get better the next couple of games."
In addition to his solid free throw shooting, Winston displayed a soft touch on his jumper and smooth ball handling skills. "I wanted to get him right in there," Gottfried said. "It's hard for Kennedy to step in there. He knows we're 10-1 as a team and playing pretty good. He doesn't want to disrupt things, but he's got to find his niche."
A 6-7 athlete that can shoot the ball well and also drive to the basket will present match-up problems for any defense. Though he was much-maligned by Tide fans, Rod Grizzard was a master at that game last season, shooting more foul shots than any other player in the league other than Florida's Udonis Haslem.
Gottfried thinks Winston can potentially play that role for this year's squad. "What our team hasn't had this year is a guy that can really get to the foul line," Gottfried explained. "What comes with that? When you've got a guy that's getting to the line, that means your team is getting to the bonus quicker, so your team is going to shoot more foul shots."
"Kennedy only played 12 minutes (versus Arkansas), but he shot more free throws than the rest of us," Williams pointed out. "Shooting and scoring is what he does best."
Typically for a true freshman in his first college game, Winston struggled on defense. Experiencing problems adjusting to the flow of the game, foul trouble kept him on the bench much longer than he wanted.
"I wanted to play more, but I got in foul trouble early," Winston said. "That was really my fault. I can't fault the coaches for that. I've been used to playing aggressive during practice, so I carried that over to the game and got some easy fouls I shouldn't have gotten. I didn't adjust like I should have."
"Defensively there are times when he was a little lost," Gottfried acknowledged. "But that's understandable. Knowing how to defend certain things that other people do--once you see those things night in and night out you become more comfortable."
He's an excellent athlete, so Winston's defense will inevitably improve as he adjust to SEC basketball. But frankly this year's Alabama squad is blessed with numerous excellent defenders, and right now it's Winston's scoring ability that the Tide needs more than anything else.
"I think that Kennedy is a guy that can really score a lot of different ways," Gottfried said. "Hopefully that will be a plus for us. I think he can be that extra scorer. He's not there now, but he can become one of the elite players."
The No. 4 ranked (both polls) University of Alabama men's basketball team hits the road for its second game of the 2003 Southeastern Conference schedule. Alabama (11-1, 1-0 SEC) travels to Nashville, Tennessee, where it will take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-5, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday, January 11, 2003. Tip off is scheduled for 8 pm (EST).