The Crimson Tide basketball season doesn't officially start for two more weeks, but the team will be hosting the first of two preseason exhibition scrimmages tonight as it prepares for its season opener on November 12th. Alabama is set to scrimmage NAIA Talladega College at 7:00 pm in a game that will be open to the public and streamed live on rolltide.com.
With only two weeks of practice under their belts, the team will hit the floor for the first time as a unit. While the outcome is irrelevant and Grant stated in his latest press conference that there would "be some experimentation", the scrimmage should nevertheless provide some clues to some burning questions about the Tide basketball team heading into the 2010-2011 season.
What is the situation at point guard?
Early indications from press reports, quotes from players and coaches, and comments from practice observers are that true freshman Trevor Releford has been very impressive. When asked about Releford's role specifically, Grant said, "I've never had any problem playing a freshman." I'll be surprised if Releford isn't the starter tonight. I've said all offseason that for better or worse we'll likely sink or swim with Releford as our starting point guard, and all indications point to this indeed being the case. Don't expect All-SEC numbers out of him, but if the hype coming out of practice is to be believed, he is at least capable of running the offense on this level.
Three other players will likely also see some time at the position, including returning sophomore Ben Eblen, junior college transfer Kendall Durant, and true freshman Charles Hankerson. All have been seeing time at the position thus far in practice. Grant will be looking for one if not two players that he can trust to run the point when Releford is on the bench, assuming that he is indeed in line for the starting position.
How ready are the newcomers in the post?
I fully expect to see our only two returning players in the post to be the starters when the season opener rolls around. Obviously, preseason coaches' All-SEC first-teamer JaMychal Green will be one starter, and Grant has gone out of his way to compliment the improvement and leadership shown by senior Chris Hines, who took over as a starter late last season in place of the now-departed Justin Knox. The big question in the post involves depth. With only the two players returning, Grant needs at least one, and preferably both of the newcomers to step up and provide quality depth.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of preseason practice has been the emergence of true freshman 7-footer Carl Engstrom. Practice observers have raved about his athleticism for such a big frame, and Grant has left little doubt to his status by confirming that "he'll play". Engstrom has only played organized basketball for two years, but his athleticism for a 7-footer is so rare that there will be no way to keep him off the floor. Expect to see him as the first post player off the bench early in the season, but it will be interesting to see how ready he is for big-time college ball. He could be a force on the defensive end from Day One. The other newcomer in the post is 6'8" true freshman Jason Carter. Carter has a nice skill set for a big man, but he graduated high school at an early age and thus will be one of the youngest players in the country playing college ball. The coaching staff will be looking to see in the preseason scrimmages if he's ready to play significant minutes in the post.
What role(s) will Hankerson play?
The most intriguing newcomer may be 6'5" true freshman Charles Hankerson, who can play any of the three perimeter positions. Think of him as one of those "athletes" who comes in for football and the coaches try them out at several positions. That's Hankerson. He was a prolific scorer in high school, and he's absolutely massive for a perimeter player. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen a perimeter player with as much muscle mass as he has--and he's only 18. He's seen a good bit of time at point guard in practice, but he's plenty big enough to play out on the wing, which might be his most natural position. It will be interesting to see how he's used and where he lines up.
What will the perimeter playing rotation look like?
Grant has been very quick to heap praise on senior Senario Hillman, and while some fans might not want to hear it, I'd bet anything that Hillman starts the season as our starting shooting guard. After all, Grant is known for emphasizing tough defense, and no one epitomizes that more than Hillman. Then there's sophomore small forward Tony Mitchell, fresh of an All-SEC Freshman team performance last season. Reportedly he's added a good bit of muscle in the offseason and looks poised physically for a big leap this season. He'll almost certainly start on the wing.
Veteran guards Charvez Davis and Andrew Steele would normally get the first look off the bench, but the sharpshooter Davis is out for a few weeks after hernia surgery. Versatile newcomers Durant and Hankerson will complicate matters, as both are capable of playing multiple perimeter positions. It's hard to predict what the rotation will look like, with Steele, Durant, Hankerson, and even Mitchell capable of playing on different spots on the floor. We may not get any solid answers to this question tonight, though, as Grant is likely to spread the minutes equally in the scrimmage, and Davis's absence may shake things up. That said, seeing which players come off the bench first and what positions they play may offer some clues.
Hopefully the scrimmage will offer answers or at least clues to these questions and others as we near the season opener on November 12th.