It's hard to believe but the 2013-14 basketball season is a mere eight weeks away (practice begins in early October after the NCAA approved a new rule to allow teams to begin practicing earlier). Alabama basketball has the good fortune of starting the season a little earlier than that as they will be embarking on a 10-day European tour to France, The Netherlands and Belgium for a series of games from August 8th to August 18th. The team has been allowed to practice for this upcoming trip, which no doubt has been embraced by the coaching staff. Any time you can get extra time with your team, it's always a good thing.
It is my understanding that Ricky Tarrant and Michael Kessens, both transfers sitting out the upcoming season, will not be allowed to make the trip. However, the three newcomers who will be able to play this upcoming season - Shannon Hale, Jimmie Taylor and Algie Key - will all be eligible to make the trip. This trip will perhaps serve these three the best as the coaching staff can put them in different game situations and see how they respond. All three will be expected to contribute on some level this season.
With Alabama's roster seemingly set, I wanted to take the time to write up a preview of each player and my opinion on what the team will need from each of them if 2013-14 is to be a memorable year for our beloved Crimson Tide. Today's post will focus on the guards. Even with the return of Carl Engstrom and Nick Jacobs as well as the arrival of two top 100 recruits in Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale, this team's strength appears to be in the backcourt as that is where the majority of the skill and experience remain.
Trevor Releford - PG - Any discussion of the Alabama guards must begin with Releford. Not only was he the best player on the team a year ago, but he was also a 1st Team All SEC selection. This season, he could be a favorite for SEC Player of the Year. No player may mean more to his team in the conference (and perhaps nationally) this season than what Releford means to Alabama. As a result, he will be asked to shoulder quite a lot in his senior year.
Yes, Releford can score, and he should be projected to lead this team in scoring as he did last season, but Releford is also one of the best defenders on the team. In three seasons he has already set a record for steals in a career. With another full season under his belt, that record could remain intact for quite a while. Also, as the lone senior on this team, Releford will be expected to continue to grow as a leader. You could see him taking steps in that direction last season, and I expect we will continue to see him settle into that role. It's the little things that will determine how Trevor's final season will be graded.
Levi Randolph - SG - While the two Trevor's received the bulk of the attention last season, Levi Randolph quietly had a very solid season himself. His shooting percentages, rebounding and defensive play all improved from his freshman season, and he was arguably playing the best basketball on the team the last few weeks of the season.
There's no debating that Levi plays hard. He's one of the best defenders on the team, hustles after loose balls and could replace Andrew Steele as the heart and soul of the team. The question for Levi is can he continue to improve on the offensive end? With Trevor Lacey's decision to transfer, this Alabama team is going to need someone to step up and help replace the 11.3 points per game that Lacey took with him. Why not Randolph? In the NIT last season we saw a much more aggressive Levi that averaged 14.6 points in Bama's three games. If he can play anywhere close to that level on a consistent basis in 13-14, the concerns about scoring in the wake of Lacey's departure will be alleviated.
Rodney Cooper - SG/SF - Like Levi, Coop also had a quiet, but solid season. He was third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per game. His percentages for FG and 3FG were up from his freshman season, but, oddly, his free throw percentage plummeted from 83% his freshman year to just 63% in his sophomore year (to be fair, he had 41 more attempts this past season). Obviously that FT number needs to improve, but Coop has proven in two seasons that he's capable of being a dependable scorer, if not exactly an explosive one.
The biggest development for Cooper this season will be the opportunity to finally play at his natural position at the 2 and/or 3 after spending the majority of his career having to play the 4 due to the lack of bodies in the post the last two seasons. This move should help him become a more effective player on both ends of the floor.
Retin Obasohan - CG - No Bama player last season improved as much as Retin did from November to March. He went from being very much a reserve player to being a key guy in the rotation by season's end. Following a redshirt season, most guys would not have been content to play sparingly out of the gate the following year. Most guys would have simply hit the bricks for another program. Retin was different. Instead of pouting about his lack of playing time, Retin just kept working on his game, improving and waiting for his opportunities, which came more and more as the season progressed. He was a great example of patience, hard work and persistence. As a result, he has quickly become a fan favorite.
This could be a breakout season for Retin. The team will need him to play more minutes this year so there will be no shortage of opportunities for him to increase his role. And with no true point guard behind Trevor Releford, Retin could be someone Grant trusts to handle the ball when Releford is out of the game. Whether he's a starter or continues to come off the bench, the potential is there for Retin to have a great season.
Algie Key - CG - Key comes to Tuscaloosa with some impressive credentials. A two-time Juco All-American at Barton Community College, Key averaged 17.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 4.4 asst last season. Those are pretty hefty numbers that suggest Key will be an immediate contributor. However, it's important to remember that great numbers in Juco don't always mean that a JC transfer is going to make a splash at their new school. Like freshmen, sometimes a JC player needs some time to transition to their new surroundings and team.
Key will be expected to play a role this season, but it's not yet clear what that role will be. He's the type of quick, athletic guard that should fit in well with Grant's pressing style of defense. And despite not posting great stats as a shooter at Barton, Key still found ways to score as evidenced by his scoring stats. Those numbers suggest a versatile player, and that alone may be enough to help Key make an impact in his first season.