With the start of football practice now right on our doorstep, the last thing you'd expect to be hearing about is basketball news. However, with more excitement and buzz about the hoops season this year than we've seen in a long time, and the hype beginning to build around this team from the likes of Dick Vitale and others in the national media, it's time for a quick rundown of the busy offseason for several Tide players, including the newcomers from Bama's star-studded top-5 recruiting class.
As a returning 1st team All-SEC performer from a year ago, JaMychal Green has been rolling in the accolades this offseason, recently being named the #6 college basketball player for the upcoming season by Basketball Prospectus, who had this to say about the Tide's star forward:
Green was a force last year. No returning high-major player used more of his team's possessions than he did, but he still shot 51 percent on twos and made 74 percent of his nearly 200 free throws. Green ranks in the top ten returning SEC players (tempo-free) in blocks, steals, and offensive and defensive rebounding. His worst characteristic is either a turnover rate that's only slightly better than the national average or a tendency to end up in foul trouble. So I say: don't be fooled by the lack of fanfare. Green was a dominant big man in 2011.
Green isn't resting on his laurels though, as he's been working hard and preparing for tryouts for the upcoming World University Games in China. 22 of the top returning college basketball players in the country were invited to Colorado to try out for the 12 spots available for Team USA. Green impressed the national team coaches enough to make the cut for the final 14, with the final roster to be named within the next week.
If Green is not among the last two players cut, he'll travel with the national team to China next week and compete alongside the top college basketball players in the country against some of the world's top up-and-coming players later this month in the international tournament.
Returning 2nd Team All-SEC performer Tony Mitchell was among the 22 invited to the tryouts in Colorado, but he did not make the cut. The tryout experience should still prove to be valuable for the Tide's two top returning players, and if Green is able to make the trip and compete with the team it should go a long way to helping him elevate his game even further as the team's top player heading into next season.
Green and Mitchell aren't the only players who have been busy, though. Two of Bama's three foreign players, rising sophomore center Carl Engstrom and entering freshman point guard Retin Ojomoh, both competed for their respective national teams at the European under-20 championship last month. Both players played significant roles on their teams, as both played a majority of the minutes for their teams in the tournament. Engstrom averaged just over 5 points and 4 rebounds per game for Sweden, while Ojomoh averaged 6 points and 2 assists per game for Belgium.
This sort of big-time game experience in the offseason can do nothing but help these players develop as they compete for playing time in the upcoming season--something both players will at least have a chance to do if they can become more acclimated to the college game.
Meanwhile, in Tuscaloosa, most of the other players are working out and competing against one another in summer drills and games. Returning players Trevor Releford, Charles Hankerson and Ben Eblen--as well as Green and Mitchell--have been working with the four newcomers who enrolled early for summer classes to get a jump-start on academics and basketball. This is a crucial time of the year for entering basketball players, as they use the early summer enrollment to help adjust to playing with college players in daily pick-up games, exposing them to the kind of mostly-full-speed live game-type action that football players simply can't get in the offseason. Working hard in this period makes it much easier for true freshmen to come in and compete immediately in big-time college basketball, something that this year's Bama team will need desperately from its much-heralded recruiting class.
True freshmen Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper and Nick Jacobs, and JuCo transfer Moussa Gueye have all arrived and are enrolled in class. Each received some praise from JaMychal Green, who specifically pointed to Cooper and Gueye as players that stood out as ready to contribute right away. He also complimented the games of Randolph and Jacobs, saying each player brings something that the team has needed.
The other two newcomers, Ojomoh and 5-star guard Trevor Lacey, are expected to arrive in Tuscaloosa later this month and enroll for the fall term. Ojomoh delayed his enrollment to compete for the Belgian under-20 national team, while Lacey is still awaiting his official clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse. However, all indications are that Bama's most hyped recruit in a decade is expected to be cleared, and that the delay is simply due to turnaround time for the paperwork. That said, you never want to get too confident about matters involving the Clearinghouse, as Tony Mitchell found out the hard way back in the fall of 2008, but again, all indications are that Lacey should be good to go.
One last tidbit: courtesy of CBS 42 Sports, here are the reported jersey numbers for Alabama's six newcomers...
#3 - Trevor Lacey
#14 - Moussa Gueye
#15 - Nick Jacobs
#20 - Levi Randolph
#21 - Rodney Cooper
#32 - Retin Ojomoh
We should have some more about how the Bama basketball team is shaping up when we get closer to the start of practice later this fall.