TUSCALOOSA – Eight Mile's Mikhail Torrance was one of seven newcomers who officially stepped on the court for the first time as a University of Alabama basketball player Friday night. Friday the 13th at 7:30 p.m. CT marked the first day and earliest time Division I teams could begin practice, and Torrance and his new Crimson Tide teammates hit the floor for an opening session that lasted approximately two-and-a-half hours.
"The biggest thing you notice," said the freshman out of Mary Montgomery, "is probably game speed and having to get used to playing harder defense. But the biggest difference is game speed. It feels good to be out there. This is a life-long dream of mine, so it feels good. I was surprised to see a crowd there, too. That was exciting."
It was opening day of practice number three for Birmingham's Ronald Steele. Steele is one of only five returning veterans with playing experience, though it is a strong returning force as, along with him, Alabama returns All-Southeastern Conference center Jermareo Davidson, 2006 Freshman All-SEC forwards Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee, and returning starting guard, sophomore Brandon Hollinger.
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"It's early, so obviously, we're not as good as we need to be, but I think the effort was good," said the junior All-Southeastern Conference and 2006 Honorable Mention AP All-American point guard. "I think everybody was excited with it being the first day and everything. The crowd really helped us out. But I think for a first day, we're right on track. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're right on schedule.
"We've got a lot of depth. All of the new guys are really, really talented. They just have to learn the system. I think they're going to step in and play well," said Steele.
Gottfried liked the effort of his team although, like Steele, believes his team has much work to do if it wants to become a contender and advance to what would be its sixth straight NCAA postseason appearance come March.
"When you critique yourself, you find all the faults out there, but there were some good signs, too," said Gottfried who is in his ninth season as Alabama's head coach. "Our returning guys have come into practice in great shape and ready to play.
"The older guys are helping the younger guys. They've done a nice job with that," said Gottfried. "And I think all of our young guys, you could see throughout practice that they all have glimmers and these little moments where they looked real good. And then they had other moments where they looked like it's just their first time ever to touch the basketball."
Alabama hits the court at Coleman Coliseum again Saturday morning from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. CT. Practice is open to the public.