Vandy-Bama SEC opener reunites Carroll, Steele

Vanderbilt forward <B>DeMarre Carroll</B> and Alabama guard Ronald Steele were high school teammates in Birmingham, where they led John Carroll Catholic to back-to-back state championships. Both have assumed key roles as college freshmen, and Wednesday's VU-Bama clash (9 pm CT, ESPN2) marks their first college meeting. In this VandyMania exclusive, Carroll talks about his continuing friendship with Steele, and advises Mario Moore on how to defend him.

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VandyMania: DeMarre, we know you must have had this opener against Alabama on Wednesday circled on your calendar for a long time. You've been friends and teammates with Ronald Steele for several years. When did you and Ronald first meet each other, and how did you become friends?

Ronald Steele (BamaMag.com)
DeMarre Carroll: Well, when I was a youngster, probably 11 years old, playing AAU basketball, I remember playing against Ron. Me and him always used to end up in the championship game playing each other. The years passed and we became good friends. I transferred over to John Carroll Catholic High School, and that was the first time I was ever a teammate of Ronald. From then on our friendship kind of went uphill from there.

We played AAU together for three years. We played in the North-South Alabama All-Star game together. My senior year we played in the Alabama-Mississippi [All-Star] game. Basically we've just been friends together for a long, long time. It's going to be great playing against him... going out there, seeing a lot of old friends who are coming to support me and Ronald as we go at it in our first SEC basketball game.

VM: How many years did you play together at John Carroll?

DeMarre: Two. We won back-to-back state championships.

VM: What's the nature of your friendship today? I know you stayed friends, but you ended up deciding to go different directions. How close are you today? Do you still talk on cell phones sometimes?

DeMarre: Yeah, we talk just about every day. I actually talked to him last night. We just discussed about the game, and we just kidded around about it. But as we got close to the end of the call, we just told each other, no pressure on either one of us. Just go out there and have fun. It's just another game, like a scrimmage we were playing when we were young.

VM: Give me an example of the kind of kidding you might do with Ronald, when it's all in fun.

DeMarre: Oh, it'll be like, we're gonna kill y'all, stuff like that. He'd say stuff like, we're already ranked. We're playing big-time teams. And I'll come back with, we're playing big-time teams too, and we've beat you guys the last three years! And he'll say, Kennedy Winston's gonna go off on you like Matt Freije did to him when he was a freshman... stuff like that.

VM: Seriously, this is a big game for Vanderbilt, and your team is really playing well. You were struggling early when you went on the road, but now the team is on a five-game winning streak. Is there anything you can point to that has made the difference the last couple of games?

DeMarre: I think everybody has kind of learned their role. Mainly it's that everybody's not focusing on themselves. Their basic emphasis is on the team. They're putting themselves behind and putting team first. It's like, they need me to rebound. The team needs rebounds, so I try to go out there and try to rebound. For others, they may need shooting. Some may score 20 or 30 points a night. But everybody's just learning their roles. Everybody's just going out there and hustling, and playing their roles. That's why our team is so special right now.

VM: Are you surprised by how many minutes you're getting as a freshman, or is it about what you expected?

Carroll fouled on a lay-in vs. Appalachian State. (Bryce Wells)
DeMarre: I really don't know. I kind of expected to play, because I've really pushed it in practice. Coach, he really wants us to bring energy to practice, so I try to bring energy to practice every day. Red [Alex Gordon] and me, we just try to come off the bench with a lot of energy.

VM: Back to Ronald Steele... he kind of does it all for Alabama. But what would you say is the key to defending him well? Mario Moore will probably start against him. What advice would you give him?

DeMarre: I'd just tell Mario to play him tough, and not give him any open looks. Get real physical with him. You're a junior, Mario, and he's a freshman, so you've got the upper hand in the moves. You know how to handle the team, and this is his first time handling the team. So basically just get up on him and play him real tough and physical. That'll be the key to defending him. If he comes out shooting all his shots, Kennedy Winston or Earnest Shelton may get mad or frustrated. So get in his head, play physical, and get the upper hand.


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