Grant counting on Releford to lead Tide hoops to championship status
‘There’ is competing for championships on a year-in, year-out basis.
Alabama came close to championship level last season. The Crimson Tide, 23-13 overall last year, finished tied for second in the SEC with a 12-6 mark, two games back of SEC champ Florida. Alabama reached the semifinals of the SEC Tournament before getting knocked out by Florida. The Tide also came close to an NIT championship, losing to Maryland in the NIT quarterfinals. Of course, an NCAA championship — not one of the NIT variety — is what head coach Anthony Grant and his Bama players really aspire to when it comes to postseason goals.
Alabama has never won a national championship in men’s basketball. The last time Alabama won the SEC Tournament? That was way back in 1991. For a little frame of reference, Alabama was still sitting on 11 national championships in football at the time. The last time Alabama won the SEC? Try 2002. Dennis Franchione was Alabama’s head football coach then. “As a program, you always want to continue to improve and take that next step,” Grant said this week at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. “I think that’s where we are. Our goal doesn’t change. We want to be a team that competes for championships. You know, so as a team, we just have to approach every day as an opportunity to get better. We have to come with the right attitude, the right effort and the right energy on a daily basis so we can continue to improve.
“I don’t think there’s one thing you can put your finger on as a program to say that, ‘We have arrived.’ You never arrive. I don’t any coach that’s won championships … will tell you that their team has arrived. So we’re in that process of trying to get our program to where we can compete for championships.”
The obvious player Alabama will be built around this season as it seeks to finally end its championship droughts is Trevor Releford. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior guard — Alabama’s lone senior starter — has actually been driving the Tide for the past couple of seasons. He enters this season as a preseason All-SEC selection after leading the team in scoring last season (15.4 points per game) and finishing second in assists (2.6 apg). “Trevor Releford, obviously, is a guy that’s been in all-conference performance (rankings) since the day he walked on campus,” Grant said. “Having him as our only senior and how he’s grown as a player and a person is something I’m really proud of. I look forward to him embodying that leadership you want out of your seniors. I think he’s prepared to do that, and I know our team will be better because of the experience that he has.” Releford appears ready to handle his role as the senior leader of this year’s squad. “Me and Coach Grant had a meeting, and he told me that I have to lead by example on and off the court,” the Kansas City, Mo., native said during SEC Media Days. “I have to show the young guys the way we play Alabama ball and the way we handle things. That’s the biggest key — leading by example.”
Other key contributors back for the Tide this season include junior guard Rodney Cooper (10.2 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game), junior guard Levi Randolph (8.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg), junior forward Nick Jacobs (7.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and sophomore guard Retin Bashan (3.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg). Randolph, who has started 67 of 69 games he’s played during his career at The Capstone, is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered in practice earlier this month. There is no definite timetable for his return.
“Levi is doing good,” Releford said of his teammate. “He is taking it day-by-day and doing rehab right now trying to get back healthy. But he will be ready, In other injury-related news for the Tide, junior center Carl Engstrom, who received a medical red shirt last season after suffering a knee injury, is back healthy again and expected to provide depth.
And what about new faces? Alabama has some of those too. Jimmie Taylor, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound freshman center, headlines the newcomers. The Greensboro, Ala., native was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and considered the top prospect in the state last year. Other newbies expected to help Bama this season include Shannon Hale, a 6-8, 210-pound power forward, and junior college transfer Algie Key, a 6-4, 175-pound shooting guard.
“(They) will all be very important as we play in the upcoming year,” Grant said of the new guys.
One key contributor off last year’s team, Trevor Lacey, elected to transfer during the offseason.
Alabama will open the season Nov. 8 against Oklahoma in the Tip-Off Showcase at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. The Tide will play an exhibition game against West Georgia on Nov. 4 at Coleman Coliseum
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