North Florida-Alabama Preview
Alabama’s basketball team is mindful of what happened last
November, and what consequently didn’t occur in March.
The Crimson Tide sports returning stars JaMychal Green, Tony
Mitchell and Trevor Releford, a preseason No. 19 ranking and a
nonconference schedule that could be a big boost when NCAA
tournament invites are being delivered.
Alabama was shut out of the field last season despite flirting
with a regular season Southeastern Conference title going into the
final week. Three straight nonconference losses to middling teams
Seton Hall, Iowa and Saint Peter’s in November and no real
stock-boosting wins outside the league contributed to a low power
rating and an NCAA shutout.
“We just want to get some nonconference wins under our belt so
when it comes down to the decision for the NCAA tournament, we have
some good wins,” said Green, a first-team All-SEC forward.
Chances abound to impress the selection committee before league
play for a program that hasn’t made the tournament since 2006.
Alabama (25-12) opens its season Friday night against North Florida
before later games against Georgetown, Final Four team VCU and
Oklahoma State and visits Georgia Tech and Kansas State besides
playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Despite the loss of key role players and only six returnees,
Grant’s third Alabama team certainly shapes up as the most likely
to be able to fare well in those types of games.
The starting trio of Green, Mitchell and Releford helped the
Tide shrug off the NCAA disappointment and make it to the NIT
championship game. Grant added a strong signing class that included
the state’s two-time Mr. Basketball in Trevor Lacey, fellow guards
Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper and big man Nick Jacobs.
Green’s three-game suspension early last season contributed to
some of the problems but he wound up averaging 15.5 points and 7.5
rebounds. The 6-foot-6 swingman Mitchell (15.2, 7.1) wasn’t far
behind in either of those categories but could have to log more
time at power forward with little experience beyond Green in the
post with the loss of Chris Hines.
Releford was an instant starter at point guard for the Tide and
got some extra seasoning in the NIT.
Alabama also loses its top 3-point shooter Charvez Davis from a
team that made the league’s fewest baskets from beyond the arc.
Defense wasn’t a problem last season, but scoring and perimeter
That’s where the new guys come in.
Lacey, a shooting guard, is Alabama’s most heralded recruit at
least since Green in a state where top recruits like DeMarcus
Cousins and Eric Bledsoe bolted for Kentucky and other locales in
recent years. Cooper and Randolph also could provide early boosts
to the backcourt and some more outside shooting.
Rivals.com rated Lacey as a five-star recruit and the nation’s
24th-best prospect, and he averaged 31.4 points as a senior. He had
knee surgery in June to repair a problem he played through during
his final prep season. Grant said that set him back in
Lacey still arrived on campus for the fall with high
expectations at a position where one of the freshmen is almost
certainly going to have to step up.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s an extremely humble kid,” Grant
said. “He understands it’s a completely different experience. I
think he understands that in terms of what he’s got to do and the
The 6-8, 250-pound Jacobs was a four-star recruit who could
supply some of the inside muscle lost with Hines.
Carl Engstrom, a 7-1 sophomore from Sweden, saw limited time in
21 games last season.
“The opportunity certainly will be there” for the newcomers,
Grant said. “The fact that we have six guys returning off last
year’s team shows there’s opportunity there.”
Alabama’s 12-4 SEC mark trailed only Florida in the league last
season. A loss to Mississippi followed by a 27-point humbling at
Florida took the Tide out of the running.
It still created some late-season drama that led to sellout
crowds at a school where typically only the football stadium
regularly fills up.
North Florida (15-19) was picked to finish third in the Atlantic
Sun coaches’ preseason poll after going 10-10 and landing in sixth
place in the league last season. The Ospreys return all but one
starter along with junior guard Parker Smith, the team’s leading
scorer at 12.0 points per game despite coming off the bench.
North Florida will certainly have plenty of chances to prove
itself before opening conference play. After the opener, the
Ospreys also visit Florida, Miami, Ohio State, Kansas State, Auburn
and Virginia Tech.
First, though, is trying to contain the Crimson Tide – something
they didn’t do in a 73-51 loss in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 2, 2009. Green
had seven points on 1-of-7 shooting.
“Our fans and everybody have big expectations for us this
year,” said Green, who scored 21 points in a 67-60 exhibition win
over Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday. “They want to see us
in the tournament and make it into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final
Four. We’ve got a lot on our shoulders this year.
“Fans have been coming up to us telling us how excited they are
about the upcoming season. Now, it’s a football and a basketball
Well, only if Alabama lives up to the hoops hopes.