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October 18, 2012TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama basketball team met with the media Thursday afternoon, the Crimson Tide's first such session since practice began last week. However, much of the attention was focused on a player who was not there for the meeting.
Freshman forward Devonta Pollard, the only newcomer on a team that is looking to build on last year's NCAA Tournament appearance, missed practice Thursday for what Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant called "a family matter." Still, there were numerous questions about what role the 6-foot-8 Pollard, a Top 25 national recruit from the state of Mississippi, would play on this year's team.
"Devonta is a basketball player, as I like to call it," Grant said. "Our team this year, I guess we have got good size when you look at Nick (Jacobs), Carl (Engstorm) and Moussa (Gueye). But outside of those three guys, who are centers, we are something of an undersized team. So we will play a variety of different line-ups and (Pollard) and a lot of our other players will be asked to do a lot of different things.
"He's doing well," Grant added. "Obviously as a freshman, there's a lot to learn in terms of what the expectations are, and the system. I think our veteran guys have done a good job of helping that learning curve for him. He's got a very high basketball IQ as well, so he has been able to pick things up."
Andrew Steele, one of the team's veterans, echoed the praise for Pollard. "In terms of his athleticism and how long he is, how quick he can jump, how fast he can run - he's been all over the place and for the way we play defensively in the press - I think he's going to be a nightmare for a lot of teams," Steele said.
"I think he can fit in more as a play maker. We won't have to run a lot of plays for him to be a great rebounder, great defender and great finisher. His skill level is better than I thought it was. He can really shoot and handle the ball and he's a good decision maker. I think he's going to be really versatile."
The nucleus of veterans, though, will be the key to a return trip to the NCAA Tournament for the Crimson Tide, while looking to replace departed forward JaMychal Green, transfer Charles Hankerson and backup point guard Ben Eblen.
In part because of off-court issues last season, Alabama used numerous starting lineups and nearly all the Crimson Tide players - including the three centers as well as point guards Trevor Releford and Retin Obasahan and perimeter players Steele, Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph - have some starting experience.
"Being Year Four (since Grant's hiring), I think we've been able to get at least part of our identity in terms of our guys understanding who we are and what we're trying to accomplish," Grant said. "We've gotten part of that in and I am very excited about the group of young men that we have this year and the potential that we have as a basketball team.
"Even though we have several guys that were part of our team in years past, we're still a relatively young team, so I'm excited about the potential we have to improve over the course of the season as we learn each other and re-familiarize ourselves with what it takes to compete in the SEC and throughout college basketball. It's the beginning and just looking forward to the journey."
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.