David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Alabama

Alabama forward Shannon Hale (11) is one of the top returners for Avery Johnson’s squad.
Alabama forward Shannon Hale (11) is one of the top returners for Avery Johnson’s squad. Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.

ALABAMA

Men

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Avery Johnson (first year)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 19-15 (8-10)

2014-15 postseason: Second round, NIT

Roster

Schedule

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): Coach Anthony Grant (fired), G Levi Randolph (15.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), G Rodney Cooper (11.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F Dakota Slaughter (1.7 ppg, 0.4 rpg), G Ricky Tarrant (transferred to Memphis, 13.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg), G Devin Mitchell (transferred to Georgia State, 0.6 ppg, 0.2 rpg), F Jeff Garrett (transferred to Northern Kentucky, did not play), F John Gibson (no longer on roster, 0.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): Johnson, 6-7 G Nick King (So., transfer from Memphis, will sit out this year), 5-11 G Avery Johnson Jr. (So., transfer from Texas A&M, will sit out this year), 6-5 G Brandon Austin, 6-9 F Donta Hall, 6-5 G Dazon Ingram, 5-11 G Lawson Schaffer, 6-6 G Arthur Edwards (Sr., transfer from New Mexico, 3.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

Top returners: 6-8 F Shannon Hale (8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg), 6-2 G Retin Obasohan (6.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg), 6-9 F Michael Kessens (5.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Alabama wanted excitement and enthusiasm back in the program. While well-aware of their reputation as a school where football rules and no other sport should ever think of challenging it, the Crimson Tide have a strong hoops tradition – Robert Horry (Lord of the Seven Rings) and Erwin Dudley are alums – and they want to be much more than a second-level program in a lesser basketball conference.

So Anthony Grant was fired after three 20-win seasons in six years, with one NCAA tournament and one division title/NIT runner-up finish. Gone with him was the Tide’s reputation of being a bruising and efficient defensive team with a plodding offense. They won some games but didn’t get on "SportsCenter."

In came Avery Johnson, who has never coached in college but who college kids know as an NBA veteran who won a ring in San Antonio and Coach of the Year honors in Dallas. No, he hasn’t had to recruit and hasn’t had to try to sneak elite players past Kentucky and Florida to the Capstone, but young players have heard of him, and that’s enough for an introduction. If Johnson can convey the same energy to future players as he did to people at his introductory press conference, perhaps he’ll get a quick hang for it and the reclamation project can really get started.

Johnson declared he wanted to be like Duke, quite a statement considering the Blue Devils are one of the game’s blue bloods and won the last national title. He wants the Tide to play fast, to run past opponents and still play good defense, but his first season may be a case of taking what he can get.

He had a late start to recruiting, lost his top three scorers and won’t get a couple of transfers eligible until next year. Top recruit Kobie Eubanks, who turned down Baylor and Kansas for Alabama, wasn’t cleared by the NCAA. Jimmie Taylor is one of the best defenders in the league (59 blocks last year) and Retin Obasohan played very well in relief of Ricky Tarrant last year. But there are seven freshmen or sophomores among the 12-man eligible roster, alongside a senior transfer in his first year at Alabama.

Johnson’s first team may have some fans jumping for the future, but the present may be how it most often is at Alabama – filler until football National Signing Day.   

Women

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Kristy Curry (27-35, third year; 336-184, 17th year)

2014-15 record (SEC finish): 13-19 (2-14)

2014-15 postseason: None

Roster

Schedule

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Briana Hutchen (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), G Sharin Rivers (3.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg), F/C Oceana Hamilton (transferred to Northwestern, 2.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-9 G Taylor Berry, 6-4 F Taylor Doan, 5-11 G C’Coriea Foy, 6-0 G Trista Magee, 6-0 G Shaquera Wade

Top returners: 6-0 G Hannah Cook (8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), 5-8 G Meoshonti Knight (7.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), 5-7 G Karyla Middlebrook (7.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg)

If only they could erase last year …

Remember how good it felt to be a fan of Alabama women’s basketball at the end of 2013-14? A program that had been the SEC’s most frequent tenant in the basement won seven conference games, its most since 2001-02, and seemed to be poised to challenge for the postseason. Things were good.

Then came the Daisha Simmons situation. Then a bad year that was somewhat expected with a lot of lost talent, but not as bad as it turned out to be. The Tide had done well with a depleted roster in 2013-14, right? Why couldn’t they do it again?

Not a lot to lean on, mostly.

Alabama slid to a 2-14 SEC season, squelching the feel-good brought by an 11-5 start (against some strong competition). The Tide couldn’t even ride their backup plan of, "Well, at least we’re better than Auburn." The Tigers beat Alabama in the regular-season finale and edged the Tide by a game in the SEC standings, despite starting the league season 0-13.

Alabama dropped its final six games and 10 of its final 11. A struggling year was reclassified as rock-bottom. The signing of a solid recruiting class, led by five-star guard and national Top-50 prospect Shaquera Wade, helped until more bad news hit.

Last year’s leading scorer, Ashley Williams, is out for the season for medical reasons. Williams was the only double-figure scorer on the team and its leading rebounder. The Crimson Tide will have to lean on their freshmen to heavily produce right away, and even if they do, the team may still be two years away from truly being a contender.

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