TUSCALOOSA _ As far as starts go this was a pretty good one.
Although all five new players for the University of Alabama men's basketball team played 12 minutes or more Tuesday night, freshman Trevor Releford showed why he was one of the most heavily-recruited point guards in the nation by helping lead a 96-60 exhibition victory over Talladega at Coleman Coliseum.
Although some of his new teammates had more playing time, Releford started and led the Crimson Tide with 17 points while also accumulating seven rebounds.
"There were some first-game jitters at first," he said. "I got over it as the game went on."
Actually, it was about two-and-a-half minutes, when he landed his first layup, that Releford's nervousness started to ease after he missed a 3-pointer but nabbed the first steal. He ended up 5-for-9 from the field, made all seven free-throw attempts, grabbed two more steals and even a pair of rebounds.
"Like I've been saying all preseason he's a great guard, my favorite player," said junior forward JaMychal Green, who had 16 points and five rebounds.
It was also good debuts for center Carl Engstrom, forward Jason Carter, guard Kendall Durant and guard Charles Hankerson, who combined for 27 points and saw a lot of playing time together as a sort of second unit.
Durant led that group with 10 points, but the 7-foot-1 Engstrom was an immediate fan favorite while playing in front of family members and another person waived a Swedish flag. Showing the athleticism that made him a standout handball player, he finished with six points, six rebounds and a blocked shot.
However, it was when that second unit was in the game that Talladega rallied to take a brief 22-16 lead midway through the first half.
"We had some lapses in the defense," Coach Anthony Grant said. "I think when it happened we had a young group in the game and we gave up some threes and weren't as focused as we needed to be from a defensive standpoint. I thought it was great for those guys because every day in practice we talk about how we need to have a sense of urgency defensively and how hard we have to play on a consistent basis. Sometimes I think the guys think 'Ok, this is just coach-speak.'
"I think it was a good test for our guys, sort of a wake-up call maybe for some of the younger guys to realize the importance of defending and especially the three-point line."
The NAIA's Tornadoes launched 27 3-pointers and made six, five in the first half, but couldn't keep up in the second half when they shot overall just 25 percent (8-of-32) and the Tide doubled up the points (50-25).
Alabama also finished with a huge edge in rebounds (53-25), scoring in the paint (60-22) and second-chance points (17-4), while rotating 10 players with walk-on Justin Luquire getting in for the final three minutes.
The only regulars missing out were senior guard Charvez Davis, who is still sidelined after having hernia surgery last week, and redshirt sophomore forward Andrew Steele was held out due to some knee discomfort and will be further evaluated.
"They defended the ball well, and rebounded the ball well," Talladega coach William Brown said. "They pounded us inside. I think they are going to be one of the top teams in the SEC. Coach (Grant) is doing a great job with them."
But when the game was over the person Brown wanted to see most was Green, a former high school player of his.
"Playing against JaMychal tonight was different," he continued. "His body looks different. I can see a big change in his strength. I just want him to keep his head down, continue to work hard and do everything Coach Grant is asking him to do. He (JaMychal) is definitely a pro."
"I kind of miss him," Green said. "I've been out of high school for three years now, so it's great to see him again.
"They came out and did a great job and kept it close."
As for Releford, Grant had a simple explanation for starting him alongside Green, senior guard Senario Hillman (15 points), senior forward Chris Hines (eight rebounds, five points), and sophomore forward Tony Mitchell (12 points, eight rebounds) - with each playing between 20-25 minutes.
"He earned it," Grant said.