BIRMINGHAM _ After six weeks of what he called the hardest thing he's ever endured, University of Alabama senior point guard Mikhail Torrance was more than happy to begin practice last week and put the rigorous offseason conditioning behind him.
"It's been great," he said during Thursday's SEC Media Day. "Everybody has been getting better each day. It's been an adjustment. For me it's been kind of frustrating because I want to get everything done in one day. (Coach Anthony Grant) always emphasizes you can't do that.
"I can't ask for nothing better, he's a point-guard coach."
With the Tide still a couple of weeks away from exhibition play, Grant said he had mixed feelings about the first few practices.
"We have a group that I've been impressed with their work ethic, with their willingness to listen and be coached," he said. "It's also getting a system in, a style of play in, terminology in that they aren't familiar with. That process, how quickly they can learn and how quickly they can make that transition that needs to be made, before we start the season, that's a process. Any coach will tell you, you want it to be quicker, but I do understand it's process, but there's a sense of urgency to get to where we need to get to in a short period of time."
So far, Grant's up-tempo and highly pressurized style of play appears to be a big hit with players, with Torrance describing it as "high-flying, fast-pace," and called the coach "intense" during practice.
Versatility will also be a key this season, especially since the Crimson Tide only having three post players.
"Because we're doping so much running, pressing, being in the passing lanes and wearing people down, I don't think it's going to be as big as obstacle as most people think," Torrance said.
Keeping 6-foot-9 sophomore forward JaMychal Green out of foul trouble is already a priority, but Grant got a jump working with him as an assistant coach with USA National Under-18 Team.
"He's a chance to be a great player in this league," Grant said.
As for this year's motivation, that's easy.
"I haven't tasted postseason play yet," Torrance said. "There's my motivation for this year."
Women's coach Wendell Hudson believes this year's team is a lot more confident and comfortable about what's expected.
"We're leaps and bounds above where we were at this point last year," Hudson said. "We're able to do things in practice, just since last Friday, that we (couldn't before). Last night we put in some offensive sets that we never got to last year because of teaching and the playing-hard part of it.
"Now, we're way beyond that. We're going to work hard they know we're going to work hard."
Alabama returns 10 letterwinners and all five starters from last year's 13-17 squad, but just 1-13 in SEC play.
"After watching everything on film, if we had believed that we could win we would have won three-four-five more games," Hudson said.
Alabama is looking for more consistency from junior forward Tierney Jenkins, and Hudson has been impressed with the offseason improvement of sophomore center Carmen McCoy. A big difference, though, may be the addition of junior college transfer LaToya King. The true point guard will allow senior Dedrea Magee to play more of her true position, shooting guard.
"I think she's going to fit in great," sophomore guard Ericka Russell said. "We want an up-tempo game and she can help us out a lot.
"I do not want to play point guard, but if they need me to do it I'll do it. I've been working hard on my ball-handling in case I have to."
Kentucky's John Calipari compared coaching his new team to coaching Martians, because he's so unfamiliar with them. "I've never coached Martians," Grant said with a laugh. "I don't know what that would be like. I look at it as if we have 11 freshmen."
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was asked who he likes in Saturday's football game and he naturally said the Volunteers, "Because they wear orange."
Although last year was considered a down season for the SEC, Calipari said he wouldn't be surprised to see the conference get seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy expects to see three-to-five teams ranked each week. "Last year the league was young and when (Darren) Horn (South Carolina) and Trent (Johnson, LSU) took over their schools, they did a great job but it is difficult when you do not have much experience and new coaches," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "The league got off to a bad start in November and December and that lowered our RPI going into January. To get us back into the NCAA Tournament, we must do a much better job in our non-conference play, especially against your major conferences."
Georgia coach Mark Fox on the differences between the WAC and SEC: "We obviously have a lot more resources in the SEC than in the WAC. The SEC is a terrific league where we all are trying to play at the highest level possible. Everyone is hungry and we are all trying to represent the conference well. I believe that this is one of the premier conferences in the country and that, hopefully, we can send half of our conference to the NCAA Tournament."
Georgia senior forward Angel Robinson is looking for the Bulldogs to challenge Tennessee and LSU this season. "You are going to see a bigger team, better confidence and a veteran team. We drank a bottle of mouthwash to get the bad taste of last season out, so we are coming out big, and we are going to make it far."