While Coach Anthony Grant and his staff are hard on the recruiting trails as we approach the late signing period for the 2010 class, two fast-rising high school guards who signed with the Tide back in November's early signing period have just wound down their senior seasons and are now preparing to enroll in Tuscaloosa this summer.
One of those players, Trevor Releford, a 5'11" point guard out of the Kansas City area, is being counted on to fill a huge hole on the Tide's roster next season. Since both major contributors at the point guard position from this year's team are graduating, there is a very high likelihood that Releford will be relied on to come in from day one ready to contribute in a big way at his position. Luckily for us, he comes in fairly highly rated by the major services, and better yet, his stock has only risen over the course of his senior season. These rankings tell part of the story:
The rest of the story comes after those rankings were released last summer and fall. Releford exploded during his senior season at Bishop Miege High School, leading his team to the school's second-ever state championship in dominating fashion. Along the way he averaged 18.2 points per game despite being considered a more pass-first point guard, and drew rave reviews from coaches and scouts alike.
Continue reading after the jump for more on Releford's recruitment and his prospects for next year...
Releford video from 2010 state playoffs (via KCOnDemand.com)
Releford video from 2010 state playoffs--with interview (via KCOnDemand.com)
Releford video from summer 2009 (via Shiver.com)
Releford video from summer 2009 (via jayhawkslant.com)By the time Anthony Grant was hired as head coach at Alabama in April of 2009, Releford had already completed his junior season at Miege and had been in contact with several major college coaches for over a year. However when he was first evaluated heavily by college coaches after his sophomore season, he was still very small for a college prospect and had yet to learn to impose his will as a floor general. Even though he showed enough promise despite his small stature to land him on the ESPN 150 after his sophomore season, he was somewhat late in landing offers from big-time programs.
Releford really turned some heads the following summer after his junior year, when he showed up having added several inches and considerable weight to his frame while showing an even greater command with the ball in his hands. By the end of last summer, Releford was holding offers from several major coaches and schools, including in-state power Kansas State, Coach Bruce Pearl and Tennessee, Coach Tubby Smith and Minnesota, Coach Jeff Capel and Oklahoma, and coach Mike Anderson and Missouri, among others. Luckily for us this was just after Coach Grant was brought in, and since Releford was something of a late-bloomer, at least in terms of his size, we were able to compete for his services more or less on even ground with the big boys despite coming in more than a year after some other schools.
In September 2009, just as he was beginning his senior year in school, Releford gave his commitment to Alabama and Coach Anthony Grant just before visiting campus the following weekend. A few weeks later, he became one of two players to sign with the Tide in the early signing period as part of the 2010 class.
Despite growing several inches, Releford is still only 5'11", so he'll likely be the smallest player on Bama's roster next year. He has done a good job though of improving his bulk, and the ESPN scouting report from last summer gives him credit for being strong with the ball and being able to deal with contact. He is most known for his lightning-quick first step and his superior ball-handling capabilities; in fact he is considered to be one of the top ball-handlers and penetrators in the 2010 class. Equally important for a point guard, especially one his size, are his exceptional court vision and passing abilities. A quick look at Releford's videos gives you an idea of just how good he is at finding teammates in key spots and getting them the ball where they can score. Despite his strengths as a passer and a floor general, Releford can also score both from the perimeter and around the rim, a part of his game that seems to have greatly improved over the course of this year. His jumper has been improving to the point where he is certainly capable of knocking down threes and his improved size has enabled him to finish at a higher rate around the rim. Finally, the ESPN scouting report says that "he fits an uptempo style of play" which should make him a very good fit for Grant's system.
Despite returning four guards for next season (assuming no attrition), Alabama will be lacking a player capable of handling starting point guard duties. Rising seniors Senario Hillman and Charvez Davis and rising junior Andrew Steele will all likely play important roles on the team next year, but none have the ball-handling skills to play the point. The one returning point guard, rising sophomore Ben Eblen, failed to instill confidence that he can contribute as a starter at this level at this point in his career, although with some work he could be a capable back-up. That leaves Releford as the favorite to be the primary point guard for next season, although Grant could still possibly add another guard in the late signing period and fellow early signee Charles Hankerson is capable of handling point guard duties as well.
Since probably Bama's biggest weakness this year from a personnel standpoint was a lack of perimeter play-making ability and our one true perimeter playmaker is set to graduate, the Tide is going to need its freshmen guards next year to step up big time to fill that void if we hope to improve on this season's disappointing record. If we can land one of the two elite post players we are after right now, I believe we will actually have one of the stronger front courts in the SEC. If Tony Mitchell and Senario Hillman continue to improve, and Andrew Steele and Charvez Davis can remain healthy, I think we'll have decent options and depth on the wing. The real key to our season, then, in my opinion, is point guard play. If something happens and we lose Releford at some point, I would go so far as to say our NCAA hopes are dashed. If Releford does come in and stays healthy, but fails to perform at a high level, I think it will be another long season where we struggle to get things going from the perimeter. But if Releford can come in and grab the starting job and make a smooth transition to the next level, we should have enough improved depth and experience elsewhere to at minimum progress from where we were this year.
In short, I think Releford holds the key to next year's success more so than any other returning player or recruit coming in. Look no further than Arkansas this year to see how much of a difference there is between having no point guard and a point guard performing on a high level. How high we can go next year depends on if we can recruit an elite partner for Green, how our returning players develop in the offseason, and just how much of a scoring threat Charles Hankerson is on the college level (much more on this when we preview him in a future article). That said, we won't go anywhere if we don't have solid point guard play. A lot will be riding on young Trevor Releford, but his rise from undersized sophomore to breakout junior to dominant senior, coupled with the comments from his coach about his work ethic and leadership skills, gives me a lot of confidence that we just might have a point guard we can build our team around.