Coach Grant, Alabama striving for improvement
The Crimson Tide is trying to rebound from Grant's first losing season as a head coach and replace leading scorer and four-year starting guard Trevor Releford.
Alabama does return the other four starters from a team that went 13-19, finished 10th in the SEC and lost all 15 games away from Coleman Coliseum. This could be an important season for Grant's future at Alabama.
Athletic director Bill Battle quickly quelled any doubts about the coach's job security after last season and predicted ''better days ahead'' for the Tide. Grant is 99-71 entering his sixth season at Alabama with one NCAA tournament trip.
Ensuring the better days come quickly will require help from among the four freshmen from a Top-25 recruiting class along with transfers Ricky Tarrant and Michael Kessens, who can finally get back on the court after sitting out last season under NCAA rules.
Guards Rodney Cooper, Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan are back but none of the returnees averaged double digits in scoring. Forward Shannon Hale started all but one of Alabama's SEC games as a freshman and averaged 8.8 points and 3.6 rebounds overall.
''We've been working hard,'' Randolph said. ''The upside is high right now.
Three players left the program, including forward Nick Jacobs, and a graduate transfer was unable to play because of an injury sustained before he enrolled.
Here are some things to watch during Alabama's upcoming season:
TRANSFERS: Grant is hoping for sizable contributions from Tarrant and Kessens. Tarrant averaged 15.3 points in two seasons at Tulane before the guard left the program. ''He'll come in the door with that experience, which is huge,'' Grant said. Kessens, a 6-9 forward from Switzerland, averaged 13.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game during one season at Longwood in the Big South Conference. He has three years of eligibility remaining.
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: Grant had his team choose a captain for the first time leading up to this season. He said guard Levi Randolph was a unanimous pick from his teammates. Randolph has started 86 games the past three seasons and averaged a career-high 9.6 points as a junior. ''That meant a lot that my teammates look up to me and wanted to put me in that role,'' Randolph said. ''They feel I have a lot of experience and will be able to help the younger guys out and be that voice for the team.''
SCORING VOID: Without Releford's 18.5 points a game, the Tide faces a huge scoring void. Alabama ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring at 67.8 points per game even with the All-SEC guard. The four returning starters all averaged at least 7.5 points while Releford finished fourth on the Tide's career scoring list.
FRESHMEN: Besides the transfers, Grant brought in guards Justin Coleman and Devin Mitchell and forwards Riley Norris and Jeff Garrett. ''I feel like we're going to have a deep roster,'' Randolph said. ''Everybody can contribute, everybody's going to get time to go out there and show what they have.''
CLOSE GAMES: Alabama is trying to reverse one trend: Losing close games. Alabama was 5-13 in games decided by 10 points or less last season.