Friday, September 12, 2014

2014-15 Roster Preview: Guards

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 squad.

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 uncertainty.

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 Crimson Tide.

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 indeed.

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.

1 comment:

DJC said...

Despite the loss of Releford and the questions in the post, I am excited about this group of guards and our perimeter shooting. I think I've said multiple times the last few years that we've had no consistent shooters and no offensive post presence, limiting our scoring chances to basically drive to the basket and hope for the best. This year, Mitchell, Varidel, and Norris are all capable of being consistent 3 point threats that should stretch the defense, plus guys like Tarrant, Coleman, Levi, and Hale are also capable of knocking down the trey.

I think people are generally putting a little too much stock in Varidel and selling Mitchell a little short. I believe Mitchell can ultimately give us the best perimeter shooting threat while not compromising defense. Regardless, I hope we adapt our offensive sets to run the guys through some screens and get them some open looks.