TUSCALOOSA _ The University of Alabama men's basketball program tried to fill its biggest needs in recruiting and on Wednesday announced the addition of four players as the early-signing period tipped off.
Shooting guards Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper and big men Nick Jacobs and Moussa Gueye will make up the core of next year's class, although the Crimson Tide hopes to add at least another player.
"Obviously we're excited," said Coach Anthony Grant, "not only about their talent and abilities on the basketball court, but their character-type young men that we were able to add to our program."
Topping the group is Randolph, a 6-6 guard from Madison rated the 29th top prospect in the nation by Rivals. Last year he led Bob Jones High School to the Class 6A state championship, was the Class 6A player of the year and placed second in "Mr. Basketball" voting.
"Extremely high basketball IQ," Grant said. "Very versatile. I think he can play multiple positions in college."
Cooper, a 6-5 shooting guard from Phenix City was Randolph's teammate with the AAU Alabama Challenge. The Russell County prospect is rated the 35th shooting guard and No. 117th player overall.
Rivals has Jacobs rated the No. 10 forward, 85th overall. The power forward averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds last season for South Atlanta High School, where he used to practice against Derrick Favors.
"Huge get for us in terms of being able to expand our borders, so to speak, in Atlanta," Grant said, in addition to praising his talent.
Finally, Gueye, a native of Senegal, is a 7-foot center who averaged 10.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.5 blocks last season for Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, Ill. Rivals has him down as a four-star prospect.
Women's team lands top JUCO players
Wendell Hudson was almost giddy, and not just because the TVs in the new women's basketball offices were finally turned on.
"Icing on the cake," the coach said. "I feel like we took over a country with this class, we pulled off a coup."
In the wake of last year's class that included McDonald's All-American Kaneisha Horn, Alabama signed junior-college standouts Kyra Crosby, Jessica Merritt and Meghan Perkins, and hopes to add one more player.
The Dan Olson Collegiate Girls Basketball Report rates Crosby the top junior-college player in the nation and Merritt fifth.
Crosby, a 6-1 power forward, helped lead Gulf Coast Community College to a 35-1 record en route to winning the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship. She averaged 10.4 points and 3.3 rebounds.
"She's an animal from a defensive standpoint and running the floor," Hudson said. "She's one of those players who's relentless about playing."
Merritt, a 5-7 guard from Pensacola State College, averaged 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season. She originally played at Talladega High School.
Perkins, a 5-11 guard, is also a sophomore at Pensacola State College who originally signed with Alabama two years ago. She averaged 12.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. Perkins was also a teammate of sophomore Celiscia Farmer at Robert E. Lee High School before transferring to Carver High.
"It's going to be good for us," Horn said about the class.
Ready or not, season's here
The men's team will open its season Friday by hosting Florida A&M at 7:30 p.m.
"I'm ready, more than ready," sophomore forward Tony Mitchell said. "Can't wait."
In addition to some changes at Coleman Coliseum, which will continue for a while, it'll be the official debut for five new players.
"It's exciting to me, it's our first official game," freshman point guard Trevor Releford said. "Everything from here on in counts."
Releford was the only freshman to start during Alabama's two preseason games. Also making their first regular-season appearances will be guards Kendall Durant and Charles Hankerson (who can also play forward), forward Jason Carter and center Engstrom.
"All five of our guys are in different stages as far as their development," Grant said. "For us to be successful we need all of those guys to provide some depth and some much needed production for our team."
The game will be part of a doubleheader, with the women facing Tennessee State at 5 p.m.
"What we're really looking forward to is playing the way we want to play," Hudson said about his team's up-tempo style. "We're going to play that way against everyone."
Senior shooting guard Charvez Davis is beginning to get back on the court after having hernia surgery, although there's still no timetable for his return.
"It's still on a day-to-day standpoint on what he can and can't do," Grant said. "He's been non-contact over the last couple of days."
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Steele (knee) doesn't appear to be close to returning and continues to be monitored.
The men's team will play in the 2011 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Nov. 17-20 at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in the Hato Rey district of San Juan. Also accepting invitations were Colorado, Iona, Maryland, Purdue, Temple and Wichita State, with the eighth team to be announced at a later date.
The women's basketball team is hoping to completely move into its new home at Foster Auditorium in January, and have its debut game Jan. 16 against Arkansas.
Senior forward Tierney Jenkins estimated that she's lost approximately 20 pounds since last season. "I started at spring break last year. I didn't do anything but play basketball," she said. Her offseason workout regiment included some boxing and a lot of tennis.
Horn on her decision to attend Alabama: "I felt comfortable with the coaches and I was used to my parents going to my games, so I didn't want to go far."