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March 9, 2013TUSCALOOSA | To the very end of his University of Alabama basketball career, Andrew Steele has not let anything keep him away. Not injury. Not adversity.
In fact, of all the seniors in America, Steele may be the only one ever to say goodbye twice.
Steele has had concussions seemingly end his playing career in 2011, only to bounce back. He has been through a coaching change that saw his brother leave the team early. Currently, the younger Steele is playing limited minutes because of a stress fracture in his ankle, the after-effect of an earlier injury.
Finally, the only thing that could keep him off the Coleman Coliseum court has arrived. He will be playing his final regular-season home game - and an important one - when Alabama takes on Georgia today. He and UA walk-on Keon Blackledge will be honored in festivities before the game.
Steele said Friday he still isn't quite ready to go.
"My mom graduated from here so I have always been an Alabama fan, for as long as I can remember," he said. "Then to have my brother come here and be in such exciting games, exciting as a fan but also with him being a part of my family. I knew if he could enjoy it that much, I would be the same way.
"I love this University," he said. "It's not just basketball. I love it when the other teams do well. I love having a degree. It is something I will cherish for the rest of my life."
"It has been a pleasure coaching him for four years," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said of the senior from Birmingham's John Carroll High School.
"I can't tell you another player that exemplifies being coachable in the way Andrew does. If you are looking for the definition of a guy who will stand up for his team, that is Andrew.
"A lot of (people) aren't aware of what he has had to go through recently. In the last week of January, he had another freak injury, (related to) something he had to have surgery for last August, a stress fracture. He cannot practice. Basically we have to monitor him now, to save him for games. Every time he steps on the floor, it is with tremendous pain.
"If you look at him, you wouldn't realize what is going on. You do see his (playing) minutes are not what they were. But he is a competitor.
"Andrew loves this university. He wants to get out there. When I met with him after he was injured again in January, I told him 'You don't have to play. You have paid your dues.' He told me "I want to play, I am going to have to have surgery either way so I want to be out there. But if I am hurting the team, you let me know,'"
There isn't a 100 percent certainty that Steele will get to start today, as departing seniors often do. His playing status is still literally day-to-day.
"We will make a decision when we get there," Steele said. "The pain is pretty bad. I just put it in back of my mind, and don't focus on it. I try to get out of myself, not focus on me but worry about how I can help someone else.
"Most of the time I use a walking boot when I am not playing. I know it is going to hurt. So there is no use in complaining about it, being tentative about it. We tried to fix as much of it as we could when I had surgery in August, but we knew there was always a risk that it could come back up."
The on-court farewell does not mean Steele is through with basketball.
"My plan is to get into coaching. The ultimate goal is to be a college coach, but I understand there is a process that goes with it.
"The time I was out (with concussions) did help me to think about what I would do when stop playing," Steele said. "It made me appreciate the game more.i had to go through something being taken away from me, but it is like you don't know what you have until you don't have it. So I am thankful for the opportunity, tough as it was. Without going through that experience, I would not be as certain about my future.
"I was always taught to give 100 percent and I have tried. I love it here. I wouldn't change any of it."
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.