SEC Preview: Alabama

Can Anthony Grant turn things around in Tuscaloosa in year one?

For the first time in three years, the health of former All-Southeastern Conference point guard Ron Steele is not an issue for Alabama basketball. Steele’s knee finally had enough early last season, and the Crimson Tide limped through the season with an 18-13 record and 7-9 SEC mark that was good only for fourth in the Western Division.

  

Alabama had been the preseason favorite to win the SEC West. The disappointing performance resulted in Crimson Tide athletics director Mal Moore forcing the resignation of coach Mark Gottfried. Gottfried, a former Alabama player, had been coach at Bama for 11 years with some good results (reaching the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 2004). The outlook, however, was not promising.


SEC Previews:
  • Mississippi State Preview
  • Georgia Preview
  • Vanderbilt Preview
  • South Carolina Preview
  • Florida Preview
  • Tennessee Preview
  • Kentucky Preview

  • Moore has made his share of coaching hires in his tenure as AD. He couldn’t match the drama of selecting Nick Saban as football coach, but response to his choice to lead the Crimson Tide basketball program has been overwhelmingly positive.

      

    Anthony Grant might have been coaching in the SEC earlier had Florida’s Billy Donovan stuck with his move to the NBA’s Orlando Magic. Florida AD Jeremy Foley has said that Grant, a former assistant coach under Donovan, was his choice for Gainesville had Donovan not ended his NBA career after a long weekend.

      

    Instead, Grant remained at Virginia Commonwealth, his first college head coaching position, until Moore enticed him to Bama last spring.

      

    The story of 2009-10 Alabama basketball for now is Anthony Grant. Grant had a record of 76-25 in three seasons at Virginia Commonwealth. VCU won two conference championships and two conference tournament titles and made two NCAA Tournament appearances.

      

    Grant’s only promise at Bama is that his team will play hard. At Virginia Commonwealth he followed the Donovan blueprint – a fast-paced offense and swarming defense.

      

    Alabama returns an experienced team, but one that achieved little last season.

      

    A substantial loss to graduation is small forward Alonzo Gee, a four-year regular and three-year starter who averaged 15 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last year. Unexpectedly, Bama also lost its top returning inside backup player, 6-8, 240-pound senior Demetrius Jemison, to a preseason Achilles rupture.

      

    Alabama returns four men who started last year, but Grant is the coaching cliché; there are no starters, he said.

      

    Still, it would be a good bet that sophomore JaMychal Green will be on the floor when Alabama opens the season. The 6-9, 220-pound sophomore was a unanimous SEC All-Freshman team selection last year. The former Mr. Basketball in Alabama and McDonald’s All-American averaged 10.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last year. He was slightly better in SEC games, 11.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.

      

    Other returning starters are 6-5 senior point guard Mikhail Torrance (10 points and 2.3 assists per game), 6-1 junior wing Senario Hillman (12.9 points), and 6-9, 240-pound junior high post Justin Knox (5.7 points, 5.1 rebounds).

      

    Two returning backup guards had good moments in 2009. Andrew Steele, the 6-3 sophomore brother of Ron Steele, played in 29 Tide games and handled the ball well and played good defense.

      

    Anthony Brock, a 5-9 senior, was brought in from junior college last year as insurance in case Ron Steele couldn’t go. Brock played in only 20 games, but hit 44.9 per cent of his three-point shots. He had a dramatic buzzer-beater trey at Tennessee that gained national attention because he had driven all the way across Tennessee in the night following a family funeral in Arkansas the day before. Grant hit five of six treys in road games at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.

      

    A new coach sometimes means better opportunities for new players. Bama added two junior college players and two high school signees.

      

    Charvez Davis, a 6-3 guard who is a native of Montgomery, averaged 17.2 points per game and made 41 per cent of his three-point shots for Northwest Florida.

      

    Chris Hines, a native of Hillcrest, is a 6-8, 220-pound forward who was first-team junior college All-America. He averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game for Southwestern Illinois, which had a 35-4 record. He had been Alabama 4A Player-of-the-Year in high school.

      

    Tony Mitchell, a 6-6, 185-pound wing player, averaged 27 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists as a senior at Swainsboro (Ga.) High School, and was 2008 Georgia Player-of-the-Year. Last season he prepped at Birmingham’s Central Park, where he averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocked shots for a 25-0 team.

      

    Ben Eblen, a 6-1 guard, led Florida Air Academy to a 25-1 record as he averaged 10 points, 8 assists and 4 steals per game. He was a three-year starter on teams that had a combined 71-11 record and won a state championship.

      

    Alabama expectations are not great for this season. Bama historically has been one of the SEC’s elite programs, and Anthony Grant does provide optimism that in time he will return the Crimson Tide to the league’s elite.

     

    SEC Predicted Order of Finish

     

    SEC East

    1. Kentucky

    2. Tennessee

    3. Florida

    4. South Carolina

    5. Vanderbilt

    6. Georgia

     

    SEC West

    1. Mississippi State

    2. Ole Miss

    3. LSU

    4. Alabama

    5. Arkansas

    6. Auburn

     

    Overall League Champion: Kentucky


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