Tide freshman G Releford making mark at point
Trevor Releford relished the idea of ''changing the program'' that he kept hearing from Alabama coach Anthony Grant during the recruiting process.
''That's what I wanted to do,'' the Crimson Tide's freshman point guard said. ''I felt like that would be a big accomplishment in my life to come in and change a program like Alabama.''
Recruiting spiel aside, Releford has certainly helped change the team.
With him as the only new addition making a significant contribution, the Crimson Tide (15-7, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) has already topped last year's league win total by one at the midpoint and has won 10 of its last 11 games going into Thursday night's visit to No. 23 Vanderbilt.
The driving-and-dishing point guard has been a key figure in the Tide's turnaround during Grant's second season.
He has had some freshman-like up-and-down performances, to be sure. But he's also been in total command of games like Mississippi State last Wednesday when Releford scored 16 points, divvied out eight assists and swiped four steals while committing only two turnovers.
He also had a heady play at the end of the first half. Releford drove to the basket and in midair dished to Charvez Davis for a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left after his first option was covered.
''He's playing his role very well,'' Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. ''He doesn't try to make too much happen. He's a capable scorer that can put the ball on the floor and take it to the rim. That's big as a point guard because he's the guy who's going to end up with that ball in his hands so much at the end of shot clocks.
''He's very good in transition. In the half-court he just kind of runs that team.''
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Releford followed that game up with a 13-point, four-assist performance at Tennessee to earn SEC freshman of the week honors.
Releford ranks among the league's top 10 in assists per game (3.8), free throw shooting (81.8 percent) and steals per game (1.4). He's sixth with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6, tops among a group of SEC freshmen that includes more heralded Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight.
The younger brother of Kansas Jayhawks reserve guard Travis Releford, he was a four-star prospect rated the nation's best ball-handling prep guard by Slam magazine.
Mikhail Torrance, more of a natural shooting guard and the team's top scorer, played the point for Alabama last season. Two years ago, Senario Hillman led the team with 67 assists but also had 93 turnovers.
Torrance and backcourt mate Anthony Brock both graduated last season, leaving Grant without an SEC-ready point guard until he lured Releford out of Kansas City, Mo. Releford has started all but the Toledo game, when he was limited by illness.
''He's got a very high basketball IQ,'' Grant said. ''He understands what we're trying to do. He's a very good competitor. The guys are able to have confidence in terms of his ability to make the game easier for them. He takes pride in that. All the things you'd want to see in a point guard.''
Arguably, the last player who fit the pass-first, score-second role as comfortably as Releford for the Tide was Ronald Steele during the 2006-07 season. The Tide newcomer was only the fourth Alabama freshman to start a season opener at point guard, including Steele (2005) and NBA players Ennis Whatley (1982) and Mo Williams (2002).
With Releford running the point, JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell are both topping 15 points a game and have bested their averages in SEC games by more than a point.
Releford is the team's No. 3 scorer with a 9.9-point average. He is averaging 11.3 points and shooting a healthy 49.3 percent against league competition.
''He does a lot for us,'' Mitchell said. ''He does as much as a freshman's supposed to do.
''He's not afraid to do anything. He's not afraid to drive, shoot, pass, anything. He's a pretty good player.''
Releford sports a tattoo on his left shoulder of a cross sandwiched above and below by the words ''Born to Lose'' and ''Built to ''Win.'' Releford said that resonated with him because of adversity he faced in getting out of what he described as a rough area in Kansas City.
''It's kind of like where I came from,'' he said. ''A lot of people doubted me and I just overcame a lot of it.''