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March 6, 2013

HURT: Assembling Alabama's all-time team

Take a moment to celebrate Alabama basketball. The current season has had its share of frustrations, certainly, as well as some good moments. But it is just one small fraction - a single year out of 100 - and a lot has happened in those 100 years.

There will be a centennial celebration on Saturday, part of a low-key acknowledgment of a long stretch of good basketball. Sometimes, that basketball has been great. At other times - well, let's just say that 2012-13 is not the only frustrating season ever on the books.

Even Alabama's best teams - 1956, 1976, 1987, 2002 - either didn't make the NCAA Tournament or didn't get quite as far as fans would have liked. A loss to Indiana in 1976 might have been the lone possible roadblock to that year's Final Four. A miss at the buzzer in 2006 kept Alabama from advancing past UCLA.

Billy Donovan, Jeff Hodge, Kent Benson, Bo Kimble, Doug McDermott - there is a long list of opposing players that have skewered Alabama in the heart.

But there have been great players, too, many of them. That has been true stretching back to Lindy Hood, through Jerry Harper and Mike Nordholz and accelerating appreciably when Wendell Hudson broke the color barrier and made the Crimson Tide a team for all citizens in the state to support if they wanted.

A great flood of players followed. Leon Douglas, Reggie King, T.R. Dunn, Robert Scott, Eddie Phillips, Ennis Whatley, Bobby Lee Hurt, Buck Johnson, Jim Farmer, Derrick McKey, Robert Horry, Antonio McDyess, Mo Williams, Erwin Dudley and many, many more, right up to the present day and the chance that Trevor Lacey or Trevor Releford or any of their teammates has to join that pantheon.

It is hard to narrow so many great players down to a team of the century. Where do you rate players who were at UA for just one year (Gerald Wallace) or two (Whatley, McDyess) against those who played for four? How do you compare stats from a different era - Harper's rebounds, Nordholz' scoring - with the modern shot-clock game.

If I were building a team - not just honoring achievements - I would probably lean to Whatley at the point guard, with nods to both Terry Coner and the preinjury Ronald Steele. Put Dunn at the other guard, a tribute to defense and to the fear of a Latrell Sprewell chokehold. The frontcourt is even tougher. I would play McDyess and King at the forwards, even though neither is a classic small forward. That leaves Buck Johnson, McKey and Horry coming off the bench - not many schools can match that. Leon Douglas would be the rare prototype center.

That leaves off dozens of gifted players and dozens more who were entertaining to watch, from rim-rattling dunkers like Wallace and Tony Mitchell to smaller aerial artists like Kent Looney and Senario Hillman, right down to beloved substitutes such as Ernest "Snake" Brown, whose entrance late in Alabama home games used to prompt the student section to hiss like a pneumatic tire that had rolled over a roofing tack.

Coaching? Another tough call, but Wimp Sanderson.

There is no Final Four banner hanging in Coleman Coliseum - not yet, at any rate - but there are 40,000 memories in the rafters there, and in Foster Auditorium, memories that are well worth celebrating.

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



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