Basketball Sneak Peek: the Point Guards

With football practice still a few days away, we here at RBR will be taking an early position-by-position look at the Alabama basketball team as Anthony Grant's indoor version of "The Process" enters Year 2.

We begin with the most important position in college basketball--and the Tide's biggest question mark--point guard.

BACKGROUND

Alabama's roster this year features three true point guards. Combined, they have tallied a grand total of 14 career assists and 18 career points in college ball between the three players. To say the Tide lacks experience at point guard would be an understatement of epic proportions.

Alabama's biggest loss from last year's roster was easily starting point guard Mikhail Torrance, who led the team in points (15.6 per game) and assists (5.0 per game). Not only was he the team's unquestioned floor general, but Torrance was also without a doubt the team's lone half-court perimeter playmaker. Alabama also lost its second point guard, Anthony Brock, who averaged 5.9 points and 2.4 assists per game, leaving only little-used freshman Ben Eblen as the team's lone returning point guard.

Grant plugged the holes in the roster by signing two point guards in the 2010 class: highly touted freshman Trevor Releford and junior college transfer Kendall Durant. Without Torrance and Brock, he will be looking for one or more of these inexperienced point guards to step up and manage the offense. Far and away the biggest key to Alabama's success this year will be how capable these young players prove to be at shouldering the burden of being the team's "quarterback" on the floor.

Below the jump: full reports on each player and an outlook for the position...

#12 Trevor Releford -- Freshman -- 6'1" -- 180 -- Shawnee Mission, KS

#14 Kendall Durant -- Junior -- 6'3" -- 185 -- Washington, DC

#10 Ben Eblen -- Sophomore -- 6'0" -- 191 -- Rock Hill, SC

THE PLAYERS

#12 Trevor Releford -- Freshman -- 6'1" -- 180 -- Shawnee Mission, KS

Releford comes to campus as the program's highest-rated point guard signee in several years. A consensus 4-star recruit and consensus top-100 high school player nationally, Releford will not only be in the mix for serious playing time, but may also very well find himself as the team's starter once the season rolls around.

Relying on a true freshman point guard (read: "quarterback") is never ideal, but Alabama does have an admirable track record when it comes to starting true freshmen point guards in the recent past. The Tide's two best seasons in the last decade have come on the shoulders of freshmen starting point guards: the 2002 SEC Championship team with Mo Williams and the 2005 SEC West Championship team with Ronald Steele. That said, despite his impressive ratings, Releford isn't quite as highly touted as those two five-star signees were, nor will he have as much talent around him on the floor in his first year in Tuscaloosa.

Releford is expected to be a pass-first point guard entering the college level, although he did average over 18 points a game as a high school senior. His biggest strength is his court vision, which is complimented by an lightning-quick first step and pin-point passing. When interviewed by RBR this spring, Releford cited his ability to get the ball to teammates as his biggest strength, while saying that improving his jump shot was a priority. If Releford can consistently knock down open looks from the perimeter, his ball-handling and distribution skills should give him a chance to be a positive force for Alabama's offense this season. Most importantly, perhaps, for a floor general, Releford is a proven winner; his high school team finished undefeated his senior year under his leadership and won the state championship in convincing fashion.

#14 Kendall Durant -- Junior -- 6'3" -- 185 -- Washington, DC

With the prospect looming of having only two young point guards on the roster with no significant experience between them, Grant decided to add a JuCo prospect at the tail end of the late signing period this past spring. Enter Kendall Durant. Durant originally signed with Virginia Tech in the 2008 class, but failed to qualify academically and had to go the JuCo route. A three-star prospect coming out of his two years at Weatherford C.C. in Texas, Durant was signed to add immediate depth at the point guard position and possibly start if Releford is not yet up to the task.

When he signed this spring, Grant identified Durant as a combo-guard who has the athleticism and skills to contribute immediately on the perimeter for the Tide. He was sixth in scoring among all Texas JuCo players, averaging over 15 points per game as a sophomore. Grant also mentioned that Durant has the ability to both stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting and create off the dribble. Although, like Releford, he lacks experience at the major college level, Durant's maturity and experience at the junior college level should provide a boost to Bama's inexperience at the position. There is almost no question that Durant will see minutes running the Bama offense this winter and spring, one way or another.

#10 Ben Eblen -- Sophomore -- 6'0" -- 191 -- Rock Hill, SC

Sophomore Ben Eblen was the lone player brought into the 2009 class by Grant after he was hired near the tail end of the late signing period for that year. Eblen was lightly recruited coming out of high school, and failed to make much of an impact in his limited action last season. In 32 games, Eblen averaged just over 6 minutes per contest. On the season he tallied 14 assists while committing 12 turnovers, meaning that he had just one assist for each 14.5 minutes played, or less than one assist every two games. He also tallied a mere 18 points on the season--less than one made basket every four games.

Eblen's ball-handling is solid enough, but he needs to improve his shooting and become at least a minor scoring threat before he can be productive enough to get serious minutes for the Tide. Can he become a productive player? Grant wouldn't have signed him if he didn't think he was at least capable of being a solid back-up at this level, and I think that's what he wants from Eblen. Still, Eblen needs to show some improvement from last year to this in order to see any more time than he got last year as a backup.

OUTLOOK

With no established returning players, competition for the starting spot and floor minutes will be wide open when practice starts in October. Expect to see a battle between the two newcomers, Releford and Durant, for the starting spot, with both seeing plenty of time at the position one way or another. Eblen will provide depth, and could see limited minutes in relief or perhaps even more if injuries or poor play hold back Releford and Durant. Even if Releford or Durant lays claim to the starting job early on, don't expect either one to take the entire load on his shoulders the way Torrance did last year.

In the best-case scenario, Releford will make the leap from high school to college seamlessly and have a Ronald Steele 2005-type of freshman year and orchestrate the offense with quiet effectiveness while Durant proves to be a solid SEC-caliber point guard in his own right. In the worst-case scenario (aside from major injuries obviously), both Releford and Durant will struggle to make the transition to the major college level and Grant will have to rely on rotating three less-than-dangerous point guards, making it difficult to generate much in the half-court offense. Having never seen any of these players play regularly on this level, it's hard to say where on this spectrum Alabama's 2010-2011 point guard play will fall. One thing, though, is clear: however close reality ends up being to each end of that spectrum will determine, probably more than any other factor, just how successful the Crimson Tide will be in the second year of Anthony Grant's Process.

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