The Southeastern Conference can be a tough place for a wimp, says a man who ought to know. "Brute strength is the most important thing in the SEC," states Alabama Coach Winfrey (Wimp) Sanderson. To get by in this league, a wimp needs to surround himself with muscle, which is what Sanderson had last season in 6'7" Eddie Phillips and 6'9" Phillip Lockett. Phillips and Lockett helped 'Bama go 24-7, but their departure has Wimp whimpering for a power forward. Don't be misled, though. There's a lot of talent here, particularly among the quick backcourt men. Ennis Whatley, a sophomore point guard who averaged 12.1 points per game last season, senior Mike Davis (11.4) and junior Eric Richardson (6.9) will dictate the roll of the Tide. Sanderson's concern stems from the slender physiques of his seasoned forwards, Terry Williams (3.5 points, 2.1 rebounds) and Cliff Windham (7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds). "Not a power man in the bunch," grumbles Wimp.
But Sanderson also beat Alabama at Birmingham in the state's biggest and bitterest-ever basketball recruiting war by signing freshman Alfonso (Buck) Johnson, a willowy, wonderfully skilled 6'7" forward who can do everything. "Our recruiting was based on getting Buck Johnson," says Sanderson. And why not? Johnson averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds a game for Birmingham Hayes High. "Buck Johnson is the best basketball player the state of Alabama has ever produced," says one SEC coach. "I'm not worried about our guards, or Buck," says Sanderson. "I'm worried about rebounds, and the schedule."
The rebounding will be handled by a sophomore center, the inappropriately named Bobby Lee Hurt (10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds), a 6'10", 240-pounder from Huntsville who, despite his majestic proportions, is more feline than ferocious. "Bobby Lee is the biggest, quickest six-ten man I've ever seen," raves Johnson.
Alabama's toughest assignments, in addition to the harrowing 18-game round-robin SEC schedule, are two dates in Southern California. In the Winston Tire Classic at Los Angeles on Dec. 28, the Tide plays Georgetown. On Jan. 28, right in the middle of the SEC rigors, Alabama returns to L.A. for UCLA and national television.
Whatley, All-America material, is the key player. As an unheralded freshman last year, he choreographed the season and the Tide's 48-46 SEC tournament victory over Kentucky at Lexington. He will be better. Though Sanderson says Kentucky and Tennessee should be the SEC favorites, he is known as a pessimist. It comes from being a Wimp.