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November 22, 2011

Puerto Rico: Freshmen impact

The Alabama basketball team was on a mission in San Juan after what happened in last year's preseason tournament, and it showed. The Crimson Tide won all three games and took home the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title, due in large part to the play of four freshmen. Anthony Grant's heralded recruiting class made plays on offense throughout the tournament, but it was their defensive effort that set them apart. Here is a breakdown of what I saw from UA's freshman class.

Trevor Lacey (Rivals - No. 24, five star)
Lacey was the most significant of the incoming recruits because of his national ranking and the fact that Alabama took him away from the likes of Kansas and Kentucky. However, surgery in May didn't allow him to do much over the summer, and it looks like he's still getting back into basketball shape. When I saw him play last year, he could fill it up. Whether it was knocking down a 3-point shot or getting inside the lane and finishing, he could get the ball in the hoop. We haven't seen that yet, but it's still early in the season. Down in Puerto Rico, Grant used Lacey as the primary backup to Trevor Releford at the point guard position, and I thought he did a good job handling the ball and running the team. In three games, he finished with eight assists to just two turnovers. He played very unselfishly, which surprised me a little bit. I saw him take at least two charges, and it didn't look like he was forcing up bad shots. Look for Lacey to continue to improve as he gets more playing time.

Levi Randolph (Rivals - No. 30, four star)
Coming out of high school, I've thought all along that Randolph was the most complete player in Alabama's 2011 recruiting class. He had a phenomenal midrange game and could hit the 3-point shot with consistency, but it was his size (6-foot-6) and overall basketball IQ that made him stand out. In the tournament, he struggled some in the opening game but picked it up against Wichita State and had his best game in the finals against Purdue, finishing with 12 points. On offense, he showed the ability to drive to the lane as well as create his own shot. He still has some work to do with his outside shot, but that will come with confidence. What everybody is raving about, and rightfully so, is his effort on the defensive end. Against Purdue, he locked down Robbie Hummel for part of the game and also did a good job on Boilermaker point guard Lewis Jackson. Randolph has really bought into Grant's system, and he's also put a lot of work in the weight room because he's noticeably stronger.

Rodney Cooper (Rivals - No. 49, four star)
If there was one freshman who struggled at times in Puerto Rico, it was Cooper. From what I saw on the AAU circuit, I had a feeling he would have the hardest time making the transition to the college game. Playing on the same team with Randolph two summers ago, he looked a little tentative on offense and lost at times on defense. He had a terrific senior season at Russell County High School, but that was when he was the go-to guy. He has to learn to play with the rest of the team, take the shot when its there and not force anything. There's no doubt he has a great stroke from behind the arc, and he also has the size and ability to be a great defender, especially on the ball. If the UA coaching staff felt like he was good enough to start from day one, that says a lot. He should continue to get 20 minutes a game and make a solid contribution to this year's team. I also like his upside going forward.

Nick Jacobs (Rivals - No. 90, four star)
To be honest, I never saw Jacobs play during the AAU season or in high school. I've only had people tell me about his size and how he looks college ready. At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, there's no denying that, but early on, Jacobs has received the least amount of playing time of the four freshmen who have seen the court. Still, I was impressed with how he played in Puerto Rico and with the game he had against Wichita State. Down the stretch in a close game, he came in and made an impact on both ends of the court. He was aggressive on defense and finished with a team-high five blocks in just nine minutes of action. He also made a couple buckets, including a great low-post move that he finished with his left hand. I'll be curious to see how much Jacobs plays this year, especially if Moussa Gueye returns in January, but I expect him to make a bigger impact next year when Green leaves.

*Note: Freshman point guard Retin Ojomoh still has not seen the court for Alabama, and there's a good chance he may redshirt this year.


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