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February 25, 2012

Freshman stepping up at the right time

In an ideal world, a college basketball team would find stability from the expected sources - seniors, veterans, guys who have been around the block.

College basketball isn't always an ideal world, though, because it is played by college-age individuals. Sometimes they are foolish, as we all tended to be at one time or another in our youth.

Sometimes their attitude is bad. Sometimes, for whatever reason, leadership just isn't one of the components that form their personality.

So you can do one of three things if you are a college coach. You can take leadership responsibility solely upon yourself.

Most college teams are fairly autocratic, and all good coaches should be in control. But there are times during a game where a coach cannot be on the floor.

He can prepare his team for what will happen, but he can't face adversity for them.

So if a team doesn't have that veteran leadership, it can drift, rudderless, or it can look for leaders elsewhere. And in this particularly today-turfy season at Alabama, it has often been the freshmen who have acted like seniors.

Saturday presented the classic case.

Against Mississippi State, a team that personifies "rudderless" from above, Alabama senior JaMychal Green was back in the lineup. Green played well, and he played with enthusiasm. But the leader of the team, at least the most visible one, as he has been all season, was Levi Randolph.

In the 67-50 win over MSU, the box score was all that was needed to prove the point.

Randolph led the team in scoring and rebounding. But there were also things that did not show up in the box score, like a floor-burn-inducing dive for a loose ball that turned into a steal and a Trevor Releford layup, just when MSU had mounted a modest second half comeback.

Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant called it the play of the game, and an inspiration to his teammates.

"That type of energy is contagious," Grant said.

"Levi, over the course of the year, has had his struggles offensively. But one thing that I always say about freshmen is that sometimes they just need to see the ball go in the basket. That's what happened for Levi tonight.

"But all year long, he has been a guy can rely on from the defensive end. He has the ability to guard guys who do different things. He has been one of our leading rebounders. He has an extremely high basketball IQ."

Randolph even has a well-developed freshman sense of deference, crediting his improved offense on Saturday to the return of Green and the "opening up" caused by his presence in the post.

Randolph isn't the only one of Alabama's freshmen to play well and show a steady curve of improvement. All four playing representatives of the touted freshman class - Randolph, Rodney Cooper, Trevor Lacey and Nick Jacobs - have done so.

There is a tendency to compare touted freshman classes to the NBA-lottery assemblage of talent at Kentucky - Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and the rest.

This Alabama class is different - but is developing into something special at just the right time.

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



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