Trevor Releford has left the building. Over the course of four years, Trevor became one of the best players in Alabama basketball history, finishing in the all-time top five in points and the all-time leader in steals. Last season, he was the only offensive option for the team on most nights. Despite that adversity he had a stellar senior season, but the overall struggles of the team probably cost him a well-deserved SEC Player of the Year award. You can’t replace a player like Trevor, but the hope is that a deep stable of guards will be able to soften the blow of his departure.
And Alabama will be deep at the guard spots. In addition to experienced
returning players such as Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan, the team
adds experienced transfers in Ricky Tarrant and Christophe Varidel,
while Grant and his staff also brought in two top 100 guards in Justin
Coleman (most recruiting sites listed him as the top high school player
in Alabama) and Devin Mitchell. All six players are capable of filling
needs for this team and will serve as the backbone for the 2014-15
Levi Randolph – There were many things wrong with
the 2013-14 edition of Bama basketball; a 13-19 record is proof of that.
But the most disappointing aspect of the season may have been the
underwhelming play of Bama’s junior class. On a team with a lone senior,
the juniors for Alabama had to play a bigger role, but none of them
could consistently deliver. Levi was perhaps the most frustrating as his
talent shone through at times (some nights, Levi was the best player on
the floor), but just as quickly he would disappear into a cloud of
To be fair, Levi had a rough preseason, sustaining a knee injury just
weeks before the season tipped off. He also had a tragic personal
development off the court as a close friend of his passed away. Along with the
added pressures of being a student athlete (Levi is a member of the SEC
academic honor roll), it’s easy to see how all of these pressures could
have affected Levi’s focus at various times last season. And despite
those pressures, Levi still finished second on the team in points and
rebounds so it’s not as if his season was a total bust.
But this team needs a more aggressive, confident Levi Randolph who is
willing to embrace his talent. When Levi is focused and aggressive, his
game is a thing of beauty. When confident, he has a beautiful jump
shot, he can score off the dribble, and he can get to the rim and finish. He’s also
a good defender, and hustle has never been a major issue with him. For
Levi, it’s all about confidence. If he believes he’s the best player on
the floor, then most nights he has a chance to be. He doesn’t have to be
"The Man" for this team to be successful, but he’s got to be a consistent
part of the proceedings.
Retin Obasohan – In three seasons Retin has gone from redshirt to steady contributor and
has shown a little more growth with each season he has played. Already the best athlete on the team, Retin was noticeably stronger
last season, and looked much more confident as a ball-handler, playing
the point when Trevor was out of the game. He also improved as a defender,
finishing second on the team in steals and blocks. He received a well-earned
team hustle award at the end of the season.
Despite that improvement,
Retin still has room to grow, particularly on the offensive end. He
still lacks a consistent jump shot, his free throw form needs major work and, despite his
improved handle, he struggled at times last season making the right
decision with the ball in his hands. Retin’s work ethic up to this point has been outstanding so I have no
doubt that he will continue to grow as a player and a leader for this
team. He can play either guard position, but his minutes and role on
this team may be determined by how he improves in relation to the younger
guards on campus who will certainly be pushing for playing time. At the
very least, Retin will be a reliable option off the bench, but I
wouldn’t bet against him taking another significant step forward.
Ricky Tarrant – One cause for optimism in the wake
of Trevor Releford’s departure is the knowledge that the guy who will probably slide into the starting point guard spot has
two full years of D-1 experience and was previously the Conference USA
Freshman of the Year. Most teams typically don’t have that luxury in
this day and age of transfers and early draft entry. In his two seasons at Tulane, Tarrant posted career
averages of 15.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, 3.2 rpg and 1.5 spg. His career shooting
averages were not great at Tulane (39.4 FG%, 33.2 3-pt), but hopefully
those numbers will improve with a year off and a more balanced
supporting cast than perhaps what he had at Tulane.
Tarrant must be more of a true point guard for this team than
Trevor Releford was. In Releford's defense, he was forced into the primary scoring role last year
due to the inconsistency of his teammates. But with him gone this team
will need to be much more balanced offensively if they’re going to
improve. For that to happen, there must be greater cohesion between the
five guys on the court, and that begins with the point guard running the offense efficiently.
Ricky is capable of scoring points (20 career 20-pt games, 3 career
30-pt games are proof of that), but he can’t be the only offensive
option, not when he has guys on the floor like Shannon, Levi, Varidel,
Kessens and others who should be able to help spread out the scoring.
Having already spent a year learning the system and practicing with the
returning players and coaches should help Ricky in that regard. As with
Kessens, Tarrant will be an x-factor for this team. If he plays at a
high level, expect a much improved 2014-15 season for our beloved
Christophe Varidel – It seems like Alabama has been
in need of consistent 3-point shooting since Anthony Grant was hired.
The program has had its share of streaky shooters during the last five
years, but no one who was money from the perimeter. Releford became a
great 3-pt shooter, but he usually had to create his own shots. I’m
talking about guys who play off the ball, know how to use screens to set
themselves up for open shots, and demand respect from opposing defenses on the perimeter.
Enter transfer Christophe Varidel. The hope is that Varidel will
finally be that bomber that Bama fans have been waiting for. Varidel
began his career at Florida Gulf Coast where he put together three very
solid seasons before moving on to Chaminade University. It appeared that
Varidel’s final season in college basketball would be a memorable one
as he averaged 19 points through five games, including a 42-point
performance against Baylor in the Maui Invitational. Unfortunately, he
suffered a season-ending leg injury, cutting short his season. That
injury allowed Varidel to receive a waiver for one more season of
eligibility, and he elected to leave Chaminade for a similar tropical paradise (not really) in Tuscaloosa.
While there is little question that Varidel can score, questions
regarding his health (he’s struggled with injuries throughout his
college career) and how much help he can provide on the defensive end
will persist into the beginning of next season. But even if Varidel’s
only contribution to this team is shooting the basketball, it will be
welcomed. And he should be a fan favorite with his ability to shoot the
ball as well as his unique persona, be it on the floor or
the bench. For a program that is criticized at times for a lack of
personality, Varidel should be able to inject a little life.
Justin Coleman – Depending on what list you look at
Coleman was considered no worse than the 2nd-ranked player in the state
of Alabama as a high school senior. #1 or #2, does it really matter? The
guy is a pretty good player. Coleman has that vibe that makes me
believe he could be a future star at Alabama. He doesn’t seem to lack
confidence, and his game was already in good shape as he begins
his college career.
For starters: he is yet another good shooter added
to the roster. Coleman can shoot it from 3-pt, he can pull up off the
dribble, mid-range, tear drops, mash potato, cha-cha-cha. You name the shot, he can
make the shot. He was an explosive scorer in high school and he could
certainly carry over that ability to the college level.
In addition to his scoring abilities, Coleman has also been blessed
with great quickness and a fantastic ability to handle the basketball.
It is going to be extremely fun to watch him go “94 feet, both ways” for
the next four years. The guy is a blur, but he doesn’t play out of
control. One consistent point of praise that I read about him at the
recruiting sites is that more often than not he makes the correct play,
and he has great floor vision in transition as well as the half-court.
In other words, he’s a phenomenal point guard and has the tools to be
something special. In my opinion, he’s by far the best pure (notice I
said pure) point guard prospect at Alabama since Ron Steele.
However, the question of playing time in 2014-15 will be a legitimate
one for Justin (and the freshman class as a whole). While Ricky Tarrant
appears to be the odds on favorite to be Bama’s starting PG this
season, is Coleman automatically the back-up despite Retin’s improvement
at the PG position? While Justin has been blessed with great quickness,
a competitive fire and the basketball skills to become a star player in
the SEC, as a freshman he’s currently listed at only 5-10, 160 lbs.
Fair or not, his size and strength is the only real question mark about his
ability to compete in the SEC. Not in the long-term - he’s too
competitive and too good not to find his way on the floor at some point - but the short-term. Regardless, whether he
plays major minutes this season or not, his future is very bright
Devin Mitchell – Last, but certainly not least, we
have 2-guard and recruiter extraordinaire, Devin Mitchell. I say that
because once Devin committed to Alabama, he mounted a feverish campaign
via Twitter to bring every available recruit with him to Tuscaloosa. His
passion and love for the university (despite hailing from Georgia) is
infectious and he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite. In fact, once he
got fans involved on Twitter in recruiting, it arguably resulted in
playing a part in Jeff Garrett coming to Alabama, and it may have played a big part in 2014 recruit Jackson
Davis visiting and listing Alabama among his final two favorites before
ultimately choosing Butler.
But Devin’s not just a recruiter, he’s also a hell of a basketball
player. While some recruiting sites listed him just outside the top 100,
everything I’ve seen and read about this guy makes me believe he can be
a great player at Alabama with a little time and work. First and foremost, he is yet another
perimeter scorer, which Alabama desperately needed. In fact, he might be
the best shooter on the team outside of a healthy Varidel. Secondly, in
addition to his shooting, Devin also handles the ball well, is a
willing passer, and was a better rebounder in high school than his size
(6’3, 175 lbs) would suggest. Yet, it may be his intangibles
(confidence, affability, willing to be coached, desire to lead and
succeed) that will serve him the strongest during his UA career. Like
the other freshmen, strength and conditioning will be key for Devin this
summer, but he has the skills to not only push for playing time this
season, but earn it.