After a 17-12 season (8-8 in the SEC), it seemed the Crimson Tide's NCAA bubble had bursted. But Alabama made a run to the Elite Eight, beating top-seeded Stanford and defending national champion Syracuse on the way.
"We started gelling," said senior guard Earnest Shelton during Wednesday's first of two Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days in the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. "We started winning a little bit.
"Basically, we started having fun."
Junior forward Kennedy Winston shrugged his big shoulders when asked about the Big Dance.
"The best team doesn't always win," he said. "You've got to keep the team together -get everybody on the same level mentally."
Yeah, yeah. But wasn't it a trip?
"It was just a different experience, man," Winston said. "Playing in NBA arenas. It was always packed. The crowd ... just a different feeling."
An All-SEC preseason selection, the 6-foot-6 Winston played at 205 pounds last season. Over the summer, he ballooned to 240 ("the most I've ever weighed"), but added more than hot air. Since practices started, he has dropped to 225 pounds, retaining the muscle bulk.
Winston said he planned it that way all along.
What difference will we see in his game?
"You'll probably see me post up more this year because I'll be bigger than most guys guarding me," he said.
SEC SETS SITES
The SEC Basketball Tournament will be played in Atlanta's Georgia Dome this March (10-13), in Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center in 2006, then in the Georgia Dome in 2007 and 2008.
Those were already set. But on Wednesday, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive announced the sites through 2012:
2009: St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa
2010: Gaylord Center in Nashville
2011: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
2012: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans
That means half the next eight tourneys will be played in domes and half will not.
"We're trying to be responsive not only to the demands for tickets, but also to the intimacy of basketball arenas," Slive said.
On Saturday, Feb. 19, all SEC Western Division teams will play an Eastern Division team.
And that's just the start of more changes.
"We're working on some other innovations I think you'll find interesting," Slive said.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has added former Wyoming head coach Larry Shyatt to his staff.
Word in the Sunshine State is Shyatt was brought in to shore up the Gators' defense, which mostly has zoned out of late.
Not so, said Donovan when asked a gazzilion times about it.
"That's a misconception," Donovan said. "We're playing defense the way I feel comfortable playing defense."
Donovan pointed out that he prefers pressing (remember that?) and Shyatt does not. Guess who gets his way?
"I want us to pressure more, be a little bit more disruptive," Donovan said. "We've got to get better in that area, back to the way we used to play defense."
GETTING DEEP AT UK
The good news for the rest of the SEC is Kentucky lost key seniors Erik Daniels (forward), Gerald Fitch (guard) and Cliff Hawkins (point guard) from last season's 27-5 team.
The bad news is Tubby Smith signed perhaps the best class in the program's history to help take their places.
Smith, who believes freshmen are much more ready to be tossed into the SEC mix these days ("they come in with a lot of confidence"), almost licked his chops when asked how things are going with the blend of veterans like senior forward Chuck Hayes and the newcomers.
"It's coming along well," Smith said. "When you look at last year's experience, the biggest drop-off was when we had to go off the bench. We'll have a deeper rotation than we've had in a while.
"Are we going to be as good as advertised? It's a wait and see-type thing."
Slive spoke glowingly about legislation that began with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and will go before the NCAA Management Council for a vote in April.
The legislation requests that coaches be allowed to work with players two hours per week, year-round.
Slive wasn't the only one talking about it.
"(NCAA folks) are concerned about agents, but coaches can't be around," said Florida's Donovan. "In essence, we're coaching these guys five months a year. It should be 12 months a year."
Said Alabama's Gottfried: "That's a big thing. Instead of Earnest Shelton having to go by himself and shoot in April, May and June, I can go over there now and work with him.
"I think that's a step in the right direction. That helps you a little bit."
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