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June 2, 2012

Pollard picks UA

Imagine Nick Saban waiting for weeks after the February football signing date to sign not just a player, but an entire 25-man signing class. That is essentially the high-stakes waiting game Anthony Grant played this spring - and on Friday afternoon, it paid off.

The University of Alabama basketball coach played the waiting game with America's most contemplative major recruit - Devonta Pollard of Porterville, Miss.

Pollard waited through the early signing period last November. Then he waited through the entire late signing period in April and May. Through it all, he rarely eliminated a contending school although a couple eliminated themselves - Mississippi State with a coaching change, Kentucky by signing a bevy of other All-Americans, as usual. But he kept several schools under consideration for months - Texas, Missouri, Georgetown - and as late as his Friday afternoon announcement, he was adding an LSU hat to the table for a decision that, he insisted, "I finally made this morning."

Alabama was around all along, with Grant and his staff painstakingly building a relationship, hosting Pollard and his family at practices and games, relying on personality and proximity, not pressure. Finally, they won out.

Unlike football, a school can have a successful recruiting class with just one player - if he is as good as he appears to be. He also has the Anthony Grant attitude. He talked Friday about blocking shots and rebounding, about "wanting to win all the time."

If there were any worries abut fitting in, his soon-to-be-teammates Trevor Lacey and Nick Jacobs both took to Twitter shortly after Pollard's announcement to welcome him as "part of the family."

How much does Pollard mean to Alabama, potentially? How different will next year's Crimson Tide be with an 11-man roster including the 6-foot-8 forward, as opposed to a 10-man roster without him? The answer to both questions is "a lot."

Pollard is ranked the No. 22 prospect in America by Rivals, but it is hard to imagine a half-dozen prospects in the country that would have done more to fill Alabama's needs. He's an inside to mid-range scorer, a double-digit rebounder, a shot blocker. Without him, Alabama's frontcourt would have had to rely on its two full-size imports - Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye - and Jacobs.

In order to ramp up the quickness and athleticism, UA would have had to rely on smaller, thinner players like Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph in frontcourt roles. Pollard, though, is athletic enough to play a small forward, with the size to play poor forward.

If he adjusts quickly to college basketball, he not only serves to fill the shoes of JaMychal Green - not as an identical fit, since they are different players, but as an offensive option - but he also frees Grant to use ever more pressure on the perimeter.

It had to have been a harrowing wait for Grant, who probably won't have a comment for a day or two when paperwork is in hand and an official release is forthcoming. It was high-stakes poker, but Grant never flinched - and Alabama's outlook for next season is far brighter because of it.

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



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