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February 15, 2012

HURT: Is Grant doing the right thing?

There is an interesting division of opinion about Anthony Grant these days, a schism between those who believe the University of Alabama basketball coach is doing the best thing for his program in the long run, and those who think he's scuttled the season for reasons that are either unclear, or all too clear but addressed too late.

Let's be clear: If Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green are playing to their capabilities, they are Alabama's best two players, guys with the size and athletic prowess to defend and score at a high level. So to judge Alabama's results without them, and compare those to preseason expectations that assumed they would be available, defeats the purpose. It proves a proposition that is obvious: Alabama is a diminished basketball team without them.

But it also worth noting that, given their ever-changing moods, Alabama sometimes struggled with them. The anomaly of the season isn't that Alabama lost to LSU and Florida without them. It's that the Crimson Tide lost to lowly South Carolina, and got run out at home by Vanderbilt, with them.
And then there is the tantalizing flip side, the old "little curl with a curl" adage in action - when they were good, they were very good in playing Kentucky to the final minute, or blowing out Auburn at Auburn (a game that Mitchell missed, though Green played and played well).

That hints at part of the problem. Mitchell clearly is a player you want on the floor, but his talents - if not his dunks - are at least approachable by others on the roster.
In the post, though, the dropoff from Green to the less experienced alternatives Grant can use is tremendous. It showed defensively against LSU, which simply overwhelmed Alabama at times with a twin-post attack of Justin Hamilton and Johnny O'Bryant, both of whom outweighed Rodney Cooper, often assigned to guard them, by 75 pounds or so. It showed offensively against Florida, when Nick Jacobs, beset by foul trouble and a mouth injury, was absent.

Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye simply haven't played enough basketball yet. They are improving but aren't consistent scorers or ball-handlers. But they are getting Green's minutes because they are no other choices besides going with an undersized lineup.

So I think people who are judging Grant on the current on-the-floor results are trying to make long-term inferences from short-term circumstances.

The tougher question is whether Grant is doing the right thing in the long term. I believe he is.

I can envision the current freshmen and sophomores being a strong foundation for the future, if more talent comes along.

Regardless of when Green comes back - for Saturday's game with Tennessee, or later - there will be no Green next year. One has to wonder the same about Mitchell, despite his remaining year of eligibility, after this year's rocky ride. The late signing period is not well-stocked with their physical equals. If both were playing and playing well, and if Alabama were 20-5, say, instead of 16-9, no one would worry about 2012 being a bit of a rebuilding year. Now, it will be looked at differently, though Grant has the full and strong support of the UA athletic administration.

Grant demands a lot of his players. Last year's team, the antithesis of this one, was a player or two short but improved markedly as the year went along. My opinion is that he wouldn't go back and make a different disciplinary decision, even if there were a time machine that allowed it.

And there is also no time machine to take us into the future, to see if better teams will grow from the program foundation that he is trying to build. We only have the present - which is why we have a debate.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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