Obasohan helps lead Alabama into NCAA tourney contention

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) Retin Obasohan's senior season at Alabama has exceeded even his most optimistic expectations.

The Crimson Tide is rolling and Obasohan is playing better than he ever has, especially during the five-game winning streak that has turned `Bama into a solid candidate for the NCAA Tournament. The topper was a career-best 35-point performance in Wednesday night's win over LSU when he helped secure the victory with an array of drives, free throws and pull up jumpers.

''Gosh, it's more than anything been surreal,'' Obasohan said earlier this week. ''Kind of been a dream, from just the games that we've won to how we've been playing to how close we are as a team and how much fun we're having. It's all just been really surreal.

''You know when you come in envisioning something, like your best-case scenario kind of? This has surpassed all of that. I'm just grateful for every single moment.''

The native of Antwerp, Belgium, has gone from role player to the star of one of the Southeastern Conference's hottest teams.

He's sixth in the league in scoring with 16.7 points per game, a 10-point jump from last season. He's also sixth in steals, and first-year Tide coach Avery Johnson proclaimed after the LSU game that Obasohan is ''definitely one of the most improved players in college basketball.''

The muscular 6-foot-2, 210-pound Obasohan thrived at the end of last season after replacing an injured Ricky Tarrant. He started this season in modest fashion, leading Alabama (16-9, 7-6 SEC) in scoring in only one of the team's first nine games. He's been the Tide's top scorer in eight of the last nine, averaging 22 points during that stretch.

It only seems like he suddenly burst onto the scene.

''More than anything I think it was just like a slow, consistent buildup this year,'' Obasohan said. ''There were certain things that I had to learn as a player, or even just as a person – to find whatever it is that is my constant, that keeps me going, whether things are going good or things are going bad.

''From an early age in my college career, I found out that the only thing that is constant is my faith.''

The big constants lately have been the Tide is winning and Obasohan's play. The current streak includes victories over NCAA Tournament contenders Texas A&M, Florida and LSU. Obasohan again has picked up his game following an injury.

This time starting point guard Dazon Ingram was lost for the season with a broken left foot in early December.

Johnson, a 16-year NBA point guard, was familiar with Obasohan from watching son Avery Jr.'s Texas A&M games last season. He liked his physical play but thought he could play faster.

Obasohan demonstrated over the summer that he could also excel as a shooting guard.

''I like the way he's gotten better and better every practice,'' Johnson said. ''He's the guy I coach the hardest. Some guys, the way I coach Retin, would quit. He's accepted tough coaching.''

Thrived under it, in fact. Obasohan has soaked in the advice and daily lessons of both Johnson and assistant Antoine Pettway, once a star point guard for Alabama.

He speaks more of his growth as a person and in his religious faith than any transformation on the court. No doubt, he had a big adjustment after arriving in the American Deep South from Belgium, getting a redshirt year to settle in.

''It was a huge transition from the culture to the people to food to even time,'' Obasohan said. ''We use military time. Here it's a.m. and p.m. Celsius and Fahrenheit, pounds and kilos, inches and meters.

''Really, almost everything was different. It was a pretty big adjustment but I've enjoyed every single minute of it, and I really look at this school as a second home now.''