Wrapping up the 16-17 roster preview with the forwards and centers.
Riley Norris - 6'7 - 203 lbs - Junior - Riley took a step forward in his sophomore season. He led the team in rebounding, and finished with the second best shooting percentage from 3. He also continued to make the hustle plays that have become standard for him, and I thought he really showed improvement on the defensive end. He enters his junior season as a veteran that Avery and the coaching staff can depend on. The next step for Riley is becoming more confident on the offensive end (his FG% must improve from last season - 37% - as well as his FT% - 65%), while also becoming more of a vocal leader for this team.
Daniel Giddens - 6'11 - 235 lbs - Sophomore - Daniel played one season at Ohio State before transferring to Alabama where he will sit out the 16-17 season per transfer rules. Daniel was a top 50 high school player at Oak Hill Academy. In 18 minutes a game at Ohio State, he averaged 3.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 1.5 rpg. I think the year off will benefit Daniel as he continues to develop as a player.
Jimmie Taylor - 6'10 - 248 lbs - Senior - As a reminder of the cruel nature of time, it's hard to believe that Jimmie Taylor is preparing for his senior season. It's been an inconsistent three seasons for Jimmie at Alabama, but he's played in 99 games, starting 73 during his career. He's also been named a team captain so he's someone the coaches and players respect. The next step for Jimmie is to become a more consistent basketball player. There have been games during his career (for example: the game vs Florida last season) where Jimmie has played at a high level, but he's prone to disappear in the next game. Needless to say, this team needs more consistency from Jimmie, be it on offense, rebounding the ball better (his career average is only 4.3 rpg), shooting free throws, or just avoiding foul trouble.
Shannon Hale - 6'8 - 233 lbs - Senior - Like Jimmie, it's hard to believe Shannon is preparing for his final season in Tuscaloosa. I loved Shannon's game coming out of high school, believing he could be an All-SEC caliber player; and he got off to a great start, being named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Unfortunately, it's been up and down for Shannon since that freshman season. Part of the issue has been injuries; Shannon has had three foot surgeries in three seasons. Another part of the issues may have been mental. At times, Shannon's body language has suggested that he didn't have confidence in himself, his teammates or his coaches. All of those factors may have contributed to Shannon's struggles. Last season, Shannon got off to a great start before missing five games for an unspecified "medical condition". He never quite got back to the level of play he had before missing those five games. Surprisingly, he only started in 12 of the 28 games he played. Despite that, I thought Shannon showed improvement as a defender (his steal and dunk to seal the win at Clemson was a particular highlight), and I thought his body language was better as the season progressed (the chemistry between the players and coaches played a big part in that team winning 18 games). This being his final season, I believe that, if healthy, Shannon will play with a sense of urgency and will finish his Alabama career on a high note.
Bola Olaniyan - 6'7 - 220 lbs - Graduate Transfer - Bola transferred to Alabama from Southern Illinois where he averaged 7.8 ppg and 8.8 rpg. He was second in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding, and led his team in FG% (56.6). Avery Johnson has called Bola a "rebounding machine". That's a good thing, because one of the biggest reasons for Alabama's struggles in recent seasons has been their inability to rebound well. If Bola is able to rebound effectively, he's going to get his fair share of minutes. The concern is, at 6'7, will he be too undersized at the 4 or 5 to effectively rebound the ball against improved competition?
Braxton Key - 6'8 - 220 lbs - Freshman - Braxton was a four star recruit from Oak Hill Academy. A consensus top 100 recruit, he was an important recruit early in the Avery Johnson tenure. I'm excited to see Braxton play this season, and develop in the years ahead. The exciting thing about Braxton is his versatility; you can play him at four spots on the floor. Avery even said recently that Braxton is capable of playing the point, if necessary. I believe, at his best, he's the type of guy who can fill a stat sheet. Like most freshmen, he'll probably need to work on his jump shot, and adjust to the speed and power of the game, but at 6'8, 220 lbs, he seems physically ready to step in and play important minutes. His best years may be in the future, but it won't surprise me if he's an important part of the rotation as this season progresses.
Donta Hall - 6'9 - 224 lbs - Sophomore - Donta was playing his best basketball at the end of last season. He was blocking shots, he was dunking, he was rebounding well. His offensive game was raw and will likely continue to need work, but if he continues to defend the rim, finish at the rim, improve as a rebounder and play with the same motor that he did at the tail end of last season, that's going to go a long way towards seeing his role with this team increase. Donta's athleticism and high motor has already seen his name pop up in some future NBA draft pick conversations. Donta has a long way to go in his development, but at times last season he reminded me of a more athletic Roy Rogers, and Roy was a 1st round draft pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.