After more than two months of speculation about the possible futures of Ronald Steele and Richard Hendrix, Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried finally got his answers Monday.
Hendrix is gone. Steele is back. And with a much more clear picture of what his team will look like this winter, Gottfried can now begin working the lineup puzzle with a former All-American point guard as a centerpiece.
"I'm hoping by December or January he's playing like one of the premier point guards in the entire country," Gottfried said of Steele, who redshirted last season while recovering from knee surgery. "Hopefully we can get him back to there."
Minus Hendrix, a 255-pound power forward who is expected to be a second-round draft pick, the Crimson Tide must replace it's top scorer and rebounder from a season ago. It's a daunting proposition for a returning frontcourt that provided little support to Hendrix last year.
"In my mind he's a 20-10 guy [20 point, 10 rebound average]," Gottfried said of Hendrix. "You don't take a 20-10 guy out of any lineup without some adjustments. That hurts your team, no question. But it gives other players an opportunity to step up. So whether its Justin Knox, or Jamychal [Green] or Demetrius [Jemison] or Yamene [Coleman], somebody will emerge."
Green, an incoming freshman, will likely be given have every chance for significant minutes. A five-star recruit and McDonald's All-American, Green enters a frontcourt that has no proven scorer returning. Incoming freshmen joining Green include guard Andrew Steele (younger brother of Ron), small forward Tony Mitchell, and point guard Anthony Brock. Gottfried noted all four would be enrolling in summer school.
Gottfried said Brandon Hollinger, who alternated between two guard positions last season, will "probably be relieved" of the point guard role given Steele's return. Swingman Alonzo Gee, who withdrew his name from NBA Draft consideration early in the process, is now UA's leading returning scorer at just more than 14 points per game.
"He's got to improve his shooting percentages, there's no question about that, and he knows it," Gottfried said. "He's working hard this summer on that. ... If he aspires to play at the next level, it's an area of his game that's got to improve - from the field, the 3-point line and the free-throw line - all of them."
The Crimson Tide failed to qualify for either the NCAA or NIT tournaments last year, and struggles at point guard were a primary reason. With Steele back to run the point for next year, open looks for Gee should come much more frequently in 2008-09.
"There's an excitement - you can sense it with our players - for the chance to play with Ron," Gottfried said.