It's Way Too Early To Judge Grant

What is expected of a coach in his first season? Successful college athletics administrators stress that not much weight is placed on a first season insofar as evaluation. The won-lost record of that first year is dependent on many things outside the control of a first-year head coach.

By that reasonable standard, it is far too early to judge Anthony Grant as Alabama head basketball coach. That's not to say he gets a passing grade; just that he doesn't deserve an ‘F' for Bama's record in this first season. The danger sign is that the Crimson Tide has had many, many late-game collapses. The positive note is that Alabama has played an intense, exciting brand of basketball.

That it is not very good basketball goes to talent more than coaching.

Alabama had another failure to win against Ole Miss Saturday. The Tide led by 11 points in the second half, lost that lead, and then had a five-point lead, losing in the final minute, 76-73.

Alabama is now 14-14 overall and 4-10 in Southeastern Conference games. Anyone making an educated guess would say that Bama is going to finish the season with a losing record. The Crimson Tide goes to South Carolina Wednesday for a game that begins at 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. central time). The final game of regular season play will be against Auburn in Coleman Coliseum. Auburn defeated Bama in Auburn earlier this year, one of three one-point losses Alabama has suffered in SEC play.

After that is the SEC Tournament in Nashville with Alabama playing at least one game.

Like most teams, Alabama doesn't do well on the road. In SEC games, Bama is 3-3 at home, 1-6 (thank goodness for LSU!) on the road. Even Kentucky, with far more talent than any other team (probably more than any two or three teams combined), has lost two league games on the road this year. One of those was at South Carolina, where the Tide goes Wednesday.

Grant had little to work with when he arrived at Alabama prior to this season (and after last year's recruiting crop had been picked over by the other 350 or so basketball schools). Before the season started he lost three-year letterman Demetrius Jemison (6-8, 240) to a knee injury. Shortly after the season began, sophomore guard Andrew Steele went out with injury.

Grant knows how he wants his team to play, and Alabama is playing by that plan even if it doesn't have all the necessary weapons. Rick Pitino did that in his first year at Kentucky. He suffered some blowout losses, but only until he could reload. To be sure, recruiting players for Kentucky is a different situation than recruiting for Alabama, but the premise of putting in the system and then getting the players for it is a solid plan. It may be more long-range for the Tide than for the Wildcats. The groundwork is being laid.

The first year has been a mixed bag for Alabama basketball coaches. C.M. Newton, the father of modern Alabama basketball success, had a support group formed after Newton's first season in 1969. It was the "4 and 20 Club," taking its name from his first year's record. It got better every year and by Newton's fourth season the Crimson Tide was a contender both in the SEC and in the nation.

(Incidentally, Newton is a very strong supporter of the job Anthony Grant is doing.)

Wimp Sanderson took over for Newton in 1981, inheriting a team that had won 18 games the year before. Sanderson won 18 games in his first season, although the SEC record was a couple of games below Newton's final conference mark.

David Hobbs did not have a good first year when he followed Sanderson in 1993. Sanderson had gone 23-10 in his final season and reached the NCAA Tournament. Hobbs went 16-13 and to the NIT. Although Hobbs would have a couple of good years, he limped out at 15-16 in 1998. Mark Gottfried followed and had a 17-15 first year, although his SEC mark of 6-10 was the same as Hobbs' last team.

Now Grant is following Gottfried, who was fired and left before the final game in an 18-14 season.

Anthony Grant ultimately will be held accountable for Alabama basketball success, but the time for that is in the future.

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