Now that Verice Cloyd has cleared the NCAA mine fields and been accepted as a student, the big question on most Bama Basketball fans is, "Just how good will they be this year?" Only time will tell, but almost all informed fans expect this to be one of the best and most talented teams ever to defend the Coleman Coliseum court; and with good reason.
The first step to assessing this year's team is to evaluate the known quantities. Ronald Steele probably is the most reliable "known" quantity in the SEC, if not the nation. If Steele is not the best point guard in the country, then he is among the elite few at that positions. To paraphrase former Houston Oilers coach O.A. ("Bum") Phillips, "Steele might not be in a class by himself, but it don't take long to call the roll."
The next well known factor in this equation almost certainly must be Jamareo Davidson. JD has continued to improve during each of his three years on campus. He is reputed to have gained another 15-20 pounds of muscle (which he very much needed if he is to accomplish his goal of playing at the next level). If JD has exhibited a "consistent" weakness, then it has been in the inconsistent level of his play. This writer tends to believe that JD does not stop trying. Instead, he seems to lose his concentration for brief periods of time during several games each year. If he can maintain a consistent level of concentration throughout the season, Davidson has the tools, experience and effort to play with virtually anyone in the country. Bama has not enjoyed the luxury of so talented and experienced a center during the Gottfried era. He is a winner and I wouldn't swap him.
It is difficult to pick between Richard Hendrix (last season's "must have" recruit) and Alonzo Gee (whose talent and enthusiasm surprised everyone but alcrtide last year) as the third most indispensable piece of the 2006-07 puzzle. If Hendrix improves between his first and second year along the same cycle exhibited by Davis and Davidson (Bama's other two "true" big men who have enjoyed Coach Tom Asbury's leadership), then he could be on his way to becoming almost unstoppable. Gee is reputed to have regained his three point shot (which is reported to have suffered last year as a result of the S & C program). If that is true, he will present a second dual threat of the power variety to complement Steele's dual threat of the speed variety. Both are quick to the basket and difficult to stop in close. Hendrix probably was the better defender last year, but by eliminating his freshman defensive mistakes from last year Gee could become a defensive star.
The last known category from last year's team is Brandon Hollinger, this writer's favorite player from last year's team. Almost no Bama fan expected Hollinger to play consistently, much less start, when last season commenced. Even without last year's attrition, Hollinger almost certainly would have forced his way into the starting lineup. He plays Pettway style, full speed all the time and he has a heart the size of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Hollinger loves to play defense, was Bama's most consistent three-point shooter during much of last season, and has ice water in his veins. With the exception of Ronald Steele, when was the last time we all were glad to see a true freshman step to the free throw line with the game in doubt and time running out? Unfortunately, Hollinger's published height of 5'11" is "generous." He can dunk the ball, but he still is a bit too short to lock down a 6'4" shooting guard.
The good news for Bama is that Hollinger probably won't have to play the two guard all the time. Verice Cloyd will be more than capable at that position. It also sounds like Mykal Riley, the Texas juco player Coach Gottfried (Coach Pearson?) found when it became apparent that Ray George did not qualify academically (again) is a true swing player who can play the shooting forward or the shooting guard.
If either Riley or Cloyd turns out to be as good as advertised, then Bama should be loaded. That would allow Davidson and Yamene Coleman (who reportedly is even larger than Davidson and looking very good in unofficial workouts) to share time at the Center position. Hendrix also might play some there because he needs to be close to the basket, but the other two are more natural centers. Coleman and Gee can spell Hendrix at the strong forward position.
I would expect Gee to start at the small forward position, backed up first by Riley.
Hollinger should start at the two guard position. He has demonstrated his value to the team and CMG should force other players to beat Hollinger out of his position. They will find Brandon a formidable opponent and the competition will only make all the players better. But if Vernice Cloyd is as good as the reports on him indicate, then he will enjoy substantial playing time before SEC play commences. I understand both Cloyd and Hollinger can spell Steele if need be.
That is eight, solid, regular players. That is two more than we saw last year and two more than Bama ever has had that I can recall. (The two deepest teams I recall us ever having brought either Ricky Brown or Keith Askins off the bench without an appreciable diminution in the talent level.) Even if we assume that Ray George never will make the squad (and I'm not holding my breath), that would give Bama quality starters and depth at every position. And that assumes that the remaining two signees are red-shirted and the three players left from last year's squad never make significant contributions.
Sure, lots of things could happen. Injuries can devastate any team. The players are college kids whose focus and work ethic could disappear over night (although at does not seem likely given the solid, upper-class leadership on this team). Barring injuries, this appears to be the season when Coach Gottfried should start showing just how valuable he is. He and his staff did excellent work last year after Davis' injury in the Ole Miss game. If they can keep that focus, the sky is the limit.
I will go out on a limb and say that this team has a very good chance to make the Final Four. Anything can happen in the tournament. We've seen that happen plenty of times before. But this team should not struggle to qualify for the Big Dance and if they don't win at least two games in the NCAA Tournament (no matter where they are seeded), then I will be disappointed.
Get in line. Fill out your order forms. Buy your tickets now. This promises to be even more fun that last season was, and we all remember how much fun that was (after the Ole Miss game). I will see you in Coleman Coliseum.
P.S. Does anyone have a spare bed? I promised Mrs. Alias I would not make all those late-night, round trips from Mobile this year so I need some place to spend the night before driving back on Thursday mornings. What's football?
Roll Tide, my brothers! Roll Tide!!!!