GREENSBORO, N.C. — Alabama basketball flies well under the national radar compared to its football brethren in Tuscaloosa. And that’s why this trip to the NCAA Tournament is so special to the Crimson Tide, especially seniors such as Jamychal Green.
Bama has a solid basketball history dating back to Wimp Sanderson’s days in the 1980s and the Plaid Players, a nickname given to the school’s pep band, which dressed in plaid sports coats out of respect to Sanderson. In all, this week marks Alabama’s 19th NCAA Tournament appearance.
But the Tide has been through a bit of a rough patch here lately, missing the big dance since 2006. So this is new to every member of the team.
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“It’s just a great feeling to be here and it’s an honor to be here,” Green said. “We just want to go out there and try our best to take one game at a time and just play our best and leave it all on the floor and have no regrets.
The No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region, the Tide takes on No. 8 Creighton, which some pundits feel was under seeded given its 28-5 record. The winner gets a date with top seed North Carolina on Sunday right here on Tobacco Road. But the Alabama players don’t really seem to be worried about any of that.
They respect the Bluejays and All-American candidate Doug McDermott, but this whole NCAA thing is scratching them exactly where they itch.
“It’s the thing that every team at the beginning of the year they set out a goal to try to get to this point,” said junior point guard Andrew Steele. “And it’s exciting once you get here.”
Trevor Releford called this a “dream come true” and coach Anthony Grant said this is the culmination of hard work and doing the right things.
“I know for our guys it’s something that we have looked forward to, have planned for over the course of the season,” said Grant, who led Virginia Commonwealth to an opening-round victory over Duke in 2007.
The players know Grant has been through this, and they are deriving confidence from his experience.
“He knows what it’s all about,” Green said. “We already listen to him all the time, but he will understand how to handle this because he’s been here before.”
Duke’s Dawkins Won’t Change
Duke guard Andre Dawkins isn’t about to change any of his routine in preparation or anything else. He doesn’t believe in it.
Marred in the worst shooting slump of his college career, Dawkins will stand firm on his theory in how to get out of it: Don’t change.
“I’m a firm believer in not changing anything,” he said. “I was taught to shoot this way and it’s worked for me in the past. I have to be confident it will work in the future, too.”
Since draining 6 of 9 3-point attempts and scoring 22 points in a win at Florida State on Feb. 23, Dawkins has made just one of 12 from beyond the arc. Two glaring numbers there stand out: He’s made just one basket in the last five games and has only three points in that span; and he’s only attempted 12 shots from outside.
“It’s very difficult,” he said of the clump. “I kind of feel like I’ve let my teammates down. They’ve expected more from me than I’ve given. But, we’re zero and zero right now, this is a new start for all of us, and I’ve put that in the past.”
Dawkins’ body language has been the picture that tells a thousand words. Just watch him on the floor, especially on dead ball situations. It’s quite revealing.
“They (coaches) have talked about it and it’s something I have to change moving forward,” admitted Dawkins, who averages 8.5 points per game and is shooting 39.8 percent from beyond the arc. “I can’t let how I’ve been playing affect the attitude on the bench and not being energetic.”
UNC’s Strickland Getting Along
Dexter Strickland still carries an infectious smile and personality wherever he goes. Even in the bowels of the Greensboro Coliseum five weeks after having surgery to repair a torn ACL, Strickland is always in a positive mood, even when talking about the player that replaced him in the starting lineup.
“I think he’s done a great job,” the North Carolina guard said about 6-foot-7 sophomore Reggie Bullock. “During timeouts or when he comes to the bench I’ll go to him and tell him what he should do. He’s been doing a great job. He handles criticism well, and on top of playing great defense he’s scoring, too.”
Carolina might be playing better basketball with Bullock than it did when Strickland was a starter, and Strickland, a junior from New Jersey, sees only the good in that.
“It says a lot about the team that they have been able to adjust so well,” he said. “They know what they have to do and I think that’s one reason why we can be a great team with me out there or Reggie out there.”
But deep down the selfish side of Strickland is hurting. Everyone has that side, and he was pretty open about it.
“Mentally, I’m okay, and physically I’m getting better,” he said. “I say mentally because it’s hard not being out there with my team and the success that we’re having. I want to play, but it’s tough just watching. At the same time, it’s actually helping me. I get a sense of what coach wants and what he’s talking about.”