Friday, September 05, 2014

2014-15 Roster Preview: Wings

Though post depth continues to be an elusive luxury for the Alabama basketball program, Anthony Grant and his staff were able to add some much-needed players at the wing and guard positions for the upcoming season, which should make Bama as deep at those positions as they’ve been under Grant. This preview will focus on the wings.

 Shannon Hale – I was impressed with Hale coming out of high school. 6’8, skilled, Hale was a player with a diverse game who I thought would have an immediate impact. It didn’t quite happen that way as it took Shannon a couple of months into the season to really find his way. Once he did, he quickly became a major contributor to the team on both ends of the floor. If he had a quicker transition to the college game, perhaps Alabama’s non-conference struggles are diminished.

Hale’s overall numbers for the 13-14 season were 8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 1.0 apg. Those are solid numbers for a freshman, to be sure. But it’s the numbers he posted in conference play (once he broke into the starting line-up) that tell the bigger story. Including the SEC tournament, Hale’s numbers in conference play were 11.5 ppg, 4 rpg and 1.2 apg. With more minutes and, one would assume, a more prominent role on this season’s team, Hale’s offensive numbers should continue to improve.

But this team is going to need more from Shannon than just scoring. While he appears more comfortable playing on the perimeter, at 6’8 the team will need him to provide a rebounding presence. He showed the potential to be solid on the glass last season with a handful of games in which he had between 5-9 rebounds. Hopefully he can become more consistent in that aspect of the game.

I believe that Shannon has the ability to develop into an SEC Player of the Year contender before his career ends. After being thrown into the fire last season, the expectation will be for him to take on a greater role for this team. He will need help along the way, but his production will be one of several keys to a successful 2014-15.

Rodney Cooper – It’s hard to believe the remaining members of that lauded 2011 recruiting class are preparing for their final season in a Bama uniform. Time doesn’t fly, it accelerates. Half of that class (Trevor Lacey, Nick Jacobs and Moussa Gueye) are no longer with the team, while the remaining players (Levi, Coop and Retin) have had plenty of good moments, but have yet to put together a consistent season, individually or collectively. The 2011 class was expected to turn the fortunes of this basketball program, but the results up to this point have been, to put it kindly, mixed. With a season left in their careers, can they finally break through and help carry this program back to the NCAA tournament?

Like his fellow teammates from that 2011 class, Coop has looked brilliant at times during his Bama career, while at other times he has been frustratingly invisible on the court. Following the 2012-13 season in which Coop quietly averaged 10 pts a game, it was my hope he could become a solid second option behind Trevor Releford in 2013-14. Instead, his numbers dropped from 10.2 ppg to 7.5 (although his numbers improved in other areas – rebounds, assists and blocks).

At this point, the window may have closed on Coop becoming an All-SEC caliber player, but his experience and his ability to produce in other areas of the game besides scoring can serve this team well. For example: Coop has led this team in rebounding the last two seasons so that’s one area he can definitely contribute; and he improved quite a bit in passing the ball last season as his assist numbers improved from 0.9 in 12-13 to 1.9 last season. Being a glue guy for this team is probably not how Coop envisioned his Bama career unfolding, but in order for Coop and his 2011 classmates to go out on a winning note, embracing new roles will be vital.

Riley Norris – A top three recruit in the state of Alabama, Norris is part of an eagerly anticipated four-man recruiting class. While Norris is a natural wing, his size (6′-7/6’8 – 190-200 lbs) may allow him to play some minutes at the 4 to help make up for the lack of post depth. The scouting report on Norris is that he is a good shooter (can knock it down consistently from mid-range or 3-pt), was a good low post scorer and rebounder in high school (though he may not yet have the upper body strength to be quite as effective at the college level), and was a versatile and high IQ player. The ability to play the 4 should present opportunities for Riley to play right away, but questions about his athleticism, defense and strength to play through contact at the college level will have to be answered to determine how much he plays his freshman season.

Jeff Garrett – Another member of the 2014 recruiting class, Garrett, like Norris, is a wing, but has the size (6’7, 200-210 lbs) to possibly play the 4, if needed. While Norris is the more polished player between the two coming into college, Garrett is the more athletic and, although his offensive game needs a lot of work if he’s going to play consistent minutes at a high-major level, he was frequently praised by the recruiting analysts for playing with a high motor. For an Alabama team in desperate need of guys to rebound the basketball, hustle and defend, Garrett’s athleticism and that high motor could serve him well in regards to playing time in 2014-15, even if his minutes are only situational in his freshman season. Nevertheless, I love a good underdog, and of the four freshmen players Garrett has received the least amount of hype despite the fact he may be in the best physical shape to play right away. Whether he is motivated by that lack of hype remains to be seen, but I will be extremely interested in watching his progress.

Dakota Slaughter - A walk-on in 2011-12 and 12-13, Dakota was awarded with a scholarship prior to last season. He hasn't played much except for garbage time, but always seems good for a basket or two when he does play. He also seems like a good teammate, always encouraging the team on the bench, always into the game. Also worth a follow on Twitter (@DJdslaught)

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