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October 25, 2012If there is one thing University of Alabama men's basketball coach Anthony Grant has to offer this season, it is opportunity.
The Crimson Tide heads into the 2012-13 season hoping to come out on the winning side of the numbers game, working with only 10 scholarship players (out of a maximum 13). Plenty of teams can win with rotations of just seven or eight players, although Grant says he can "absolutely" see his team developing in a way in which all 10 players (there are also four walk-ons rounding out the UA practice roster) see "significant" playing time.
On the other hand, another bumpy ride like last season when UA had injuries and, more harmfully, suspensions could leave the Crimson Tide too thin to compete over the course of what is bound to be a grueling 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule. Grant called the suspensions "part of establishing the kind of program we want to have," and Alabama overcame the multiple-game absences of stars Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green to finish 21-11 and make its first NCAA appearance in six years. But this Crimson Tide team can stand only so much attrition.
A thumbnail explanation of Alabama's numbers would be as follows.
Most basketball recruiting is done in the early (November) signing period. A year ago, the Crimson Tide's projected roster looked as if it would be full with one addition, and - although the staff did recruit some other prospects - most of the UA recruiting focus was in national Top 20 five-star Devonta Pollard. Ultimately, Pollard signed with the Crimson Tide, a huge addition to this year's roster. But Mitchell, an All-SEC talent, could not overcome his off-court issues and left the team. Sophomore Charles Hankerson then transferred in search of more playing time, and backup point guard Ben Eblen decided to graduate this December. Rather than scurry after late-period fill-ins, Grant chose to stand pat with the exception of the Pollard signing, noting at SEC Media Days on Thursday that Alabama is careful "to recruit players that can play our style of play, and fit our program."
There is some flexibility in the Crimson Tide lineup, although there are also some limitations. Basically, the roster consists of three back-to-the-basket post players (Carl Engstrom, Moussa Gueye and Nick Jacobs), a pure point guard in Trevor Releford and six players capable of contributing at two (or, in a couple of cases, three) different positions. Pollard and sophomores Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, for instance, could play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, depending on defensive assignments. If that sounds similar to last year's team, it should.
"We don't need to reinvent ourselves," Grant said. "we just need to get better."
The likeliest areas for improvement are post play and perimeter shooting. On the inside, Engstrom and Gueye are tall but still raw. Gueye does look more athletic, having dropped some 40 pounds (to around 250) but, as Grant notes, both are "still learning how they can impact the game."
Alabama finished last in the SEC in 3-point shooting last season, but Grant said added emphasis in the off-season and the natural improvement from Cooper, Randolph and Trevor Lacey as they enter their sophomore season should help. Andrew Steele and promising redshirt freshman Retin Obasohan round out the roster.
"We are still a young team, but I am excited about our progress and the direction of our program," Grant said. "And everyone is going to get a chance, no doubt about that."
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.