Gottfried Keeps Expectations In Check

FAYETTEVILLE -- A summer conversation between ESPN basketball reporter Andy Katz and Alabama coach Mark Gottfried shows how widely preseason expectations by the media and coaches can vary.

Katz: "Coach, you guys are going to be unbelievable! You got those four starters back!"

Gottfried: "Yeah, we do. Name another guy on my team."

Katz: "What do you mean?"

Gottfried: "Just name one more player."

Katz: "Let me think for a minute."

Pause.

"And he couldn't," Gottfried said. "There isn't any more that you guys know about. So everyone else is brand new."

Gottfried is right, but he does return most of the core of the Crimson Tide team that upset No. 1 seed Stanford and advanced farther than any other Southeastern Conference team in the NCAA Tournament by making the Elite 8 before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Alabama, ranked No. 18 in the preseason AP poll, returns SEC Player of the Year candidate Kennedy Winston, who averaged 17.1 points and 5.5 rebounds last year as a sophomore.

The Tide also has senior shooting guard Earnest Shelton (15.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), 6-foot-7 junior forward Chuck Davis (11.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and 6-10 sophomore center Jamareo Davidson, who came on strong near the end of last year.

After that, Gottfried's point becomes obvious.

Of the three letterwinners returning, only forward Evan Brock played more than 14 minutes a game. Lucky Williams and Jason Reese averaged a combined 5.5 minutes per game.

Then there are eight new faces -- four incoming players and four who redshirted last year.

Alabama must replace heart-and-soul point guard Antione Pettway, who hit clutch shot after clutch shot in his career.

He hit game-winners against Florida in 2002 to clinch the SEC regular-season title and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year to beat Southern Illinois 65-64.

Arkansas fans will also remember the shot he hit to force overtime in Fayetteville after the Tide overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the Hogs 72-68.

The Alabama win in Fayetteville was part of a four-game winning streak after a home loss to Vanderbilt had the Tide sitting at 4-7 in the SEC with five games to go and road dates at Mississippi State, Auburn and Arkansas.

The home loss to Vandy was particularly galling to Gottfried, but he said the way his team responded was the turning point of the season.

"That (loss) was one of those you go home and you contemplate whether to pull out the scissors and stab yourself in the neck or not," Gottfried said, only half-joking.

The comeback kids would lose two games on last-second shots against Florida and Mississippi State, both in overtime, but kept the confidence to beat Stanford, which was not only a No. 1 seed but the No. 1 team in the nation.

"We just got the attitude we wouldn't be denied," Shelton said. "We started having fun again and that was a big part."

Filling Pettway's ruby red shoes falls to freshmen Glenn Miles and Ronald Steele and the Tide will look for 6-11 redshirt freshman Sean Taylor and 6-7 junior college transfer Jean Felix to help Davis and Davidson inside.

Shelton said it will take time for the newcomers to fit in while the Tide has a role reversal from hunter to hunted.

"We have to get our minds right and get our minds ready for that," he said. "We're not going to be able to sneak up on nobody. That's not going to happen. We'll have a ranking to start the season and everybody wants to knock off ranked teams. We have to be ready for that."

Gottfried said the "jury is still out" on how his team will handle the target on its back and he had to get on them in a recent lackluster practice by telling his players they were acting like they went 35-0 last year instead of a bubble team with a .500 conference record.

"We know what it's going to take," Shelton said. "We don't want to be in the position where we're a bubble team. We've been like that the last couple years. You have to win games. That's the only way you can avoid being a bubble team.

"We know what it takes to get to the tournament and we know what it takes to win the tournament. We're going to have to come out with that kind of intensity every night."f

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