CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

October 30, 2012

ALABAMA BASKETBALL: Releford, four sophomores try to lead Bama

By John Zenor
Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama will have mostly the same players but a significantly different look this season.

The Crimson Tide won’t have four-year starter JaMychal Green patrolling the post or Tony Mitchell slashing through the lane for dunks.

Instead, Alabama will rely on point guard Trevor Releford, four sophomores who showed promise last season and several inexperienced big men.

“I think last year when we had someone like JaMychal down low, we focused a lot of our offense on him, which was understandable because he was such a dominant threat,” guard Andrew Steele said. “I think when you look at our team this year, our biggest strength will be opening up the court a little bit more and I think we’ll be a little more perimeter oriented. We still have confidence in our bigs, but our strength will be how we attack people off the dribble and space people.”

The Tide was last in the Southeastern Conference in 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made last season. Alabama still played stout defense and managed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years despite late-season suspensions of Green, Mitchell, Steele and Releford for at least one game.

Now, Alabama has only one signee, highly rated forward Devonta Pollard from Porterville, Miss., plus redshirt freshman point guard Retin Obasohan from Belgium.

Gone are Green and Mitchell, the team’s top two scorers and rebounders each of the past two seasons. Mitchell left the team after missing the final 11 games on suspension, including the first-round NCAA loss to Creighton.

Backup guards Charles Hankerson and Ben Eblen opted to transfer after the season, leaving coach Anthony Grant with only 10 scholarship players.

“JaMychal Green’s departure leaves a big void to fill on the interior,” said Grant, whose team has won 46 games the past two seasons. “He did so many things for our team from a scoring standpoint, rebounding, defensively. Those will be some big shoes to fill. When you look on the interior we’ll be extremely inexperienced.”

The backcourt is more seasoned but mostly in supporting roles. Releford started 66 games the last two seasons while Steele is a fifth-year senior who has been a key reserve. The 6-foot Releford was second in the SEC in steals last season and is the only returning double-digit scorer after averaging 12.0 points a game.

Trevor Lacey, a two-time Alabama Mr. Basketball, and fellow guards Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper all started at least 14 games as freshmen, along with forward Nick Jacobs. Lacey is the top returning 3-point shooter after making 31 of 103 attempts (30 percent).

Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins made only two fewer 3s than Alabama’s 136. Grant is hoping the Tide’s numbers will improve significantly in that category with the season of experience.

“When you look at the makeup of our team, the majority of our perimeter guys were young guys,” Grant said. “Outside of Andrew Steele, we had a lot of young guys last year that were learning college basketball and trying to figure out their roles and what they could and couldn’t do, so I think as a coach what you see a lot of times is a big jump between guys’ freshman and sophomore years in terms of the comfort and understanding and the expectations.

“I’m confident that we’ve got a basketball team that has a lot of diversity in terms of the skills that we can put on the floor, and I feel like we’ll be a better shooting team.”

Obasohan is likely to replace Eblen as Releford’s backup. The 18-year-old played for the Belgian Under-20 National Team in the European Championships.

Jacobs (6.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and Pollard will be joined in the frontcourt by 7-footers Carl Engstrom from Sweden and Moussa Gueye of Senegal. Both averaged fewer than two points last season.

That leaves the Tide needing a big contribution from Pollard, who averaged 23.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game as a senior at Kemper County High School in Mississippi.

“I think it’s tough for a freshman to come in, but I think he’s picked up everything in stride,” Steele said. “I think he’s going to be a real big part of our success this year. I’m really, really excited to see him get a chance to play.”