The 2014 Alabama basketball season will always be remembered as a severe disappointment, with the Crimson Tide finishing a 13-19 (7-11 SEC) season with a one-and-done appearance in the SEC Tournament. That is not something the second winning-est program in the SEC is used to, nor should it be something that it will look to replicate in the future. However, what's done is done. It's time to look forward, not backward. Anthony Grant will be back as the head coach, and Alabama will have to move on and try to make drastic improvements despite losing one of our all-time greats, Trevor Releford. Let's take a look at who will be trying to replace him.
As most of you know by now, Alabama will be adding two quality transfers next year. Upcoming Junior G Ricky Tarrant and upcoming Sophomore F Michael Kessens have been patiently waiting all year for this opportunity.
Tarrant, a 6'2 product out of Pleasant Grove, AL, played his first two seasons at Tulane. He is a true point guard and is the heir apparent to Releford at the one guard. Make no mistake, Tarrant is no Releford. But he is a good Division One level point guard and will be a huge key to next season's team. In his two seasons at Tulane, Tarrant averaged 15.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, and 1.5 SPG. He shot 39.5% from the field, 33.2% from three, and 80.0% from the line. Those numbers should only improve as he gets more experience, and his advanced numbers (47.7% Effective FG%*, 54.7% True Shooting Percentage**) show that he will be a valuable addition to the team offensively. He instantly becomes our best ball handler and assist-disher, and his defense is solid.
*Effective FG% factors in the fact that three-pointers are worth more than two-pointers
**True Shooting Percentage factors in all phases of scoring: twos, threes, and free throws
Kessens is another player who will have a huge impact on our team right away. The 6'9 forward was a breakout star for Longwood his freshman year, averaging 13.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.3 BPG. Kessens was named the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2012-13, as he really started to emerge as a strong post player. In his last game with the Lancers, Kessens went for 36 points and 16 rebounds against VMI in the Big South Quarterfinals. While his level of competition wasn't very good, Kessens showed that he has the ability to really make a difference. He can play both inside and outside, and I'm optimistic that he will add an offensive presence in the post that we haven't seen since JaMychal Green graduated. Kessens shot 55.6% from the field and 70.0% from the line. He needs work defensively, but after a year of tutelage under Grant and company, I think he will get there. He can really work the boards well defensively.
Alabama currently has three four star signees for this year's recruiting class. G Justin Coleman is one of the most highly rated recruits out of the state of Alabama in recent years. An upcoming graduate from Wenonah High School, Coleman is definitely a point guard, and has been a very good one in high school. The guy can really handle the basketball, and his ability to score and play defense are really surprising when you see his size. That will be his biggest question mark going forward, however. At only (a generously listed) 5'10 150 pounds, Coleman is going to be really challenged at the next level with his small frame, but the guy can ball. His passing and his ability to drive are fantastic, and his quick hands really stand out defensively. This past year, Coleman averaged 21.8 PPG, 9.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, and a ridiculous 4.2 SPG. He had a few games where he absolutely dominated, including a 53 point, 11 steal performance in a win over Carver High. But I also saw him in person get stifled offensively against a well coached Homewood High School team. If Coleman can overcome his size, I could easily see him becoming one of the best point guards in the SEC. But as far as next year is concerned, expect him to spell Tarrant for minutes off of the bench as he develops his game.
6'3 G Devin Mitchell, a consensus top-5 prospect out of Georgia, is a pure shooter. Mitchell will need to develop other areas of his game a decent amount, but he should be expected to come in and knock down shots for the Tide immediately. His ability to drive and get to the basket needs work, but if Alabama can get him open looks, he should be able to knock them down. Mitchell averaged 22.0 PPG, 4.0 APG and 5.0 RPG this past year for Collins Hill High School. I expect to see Mitchell get a good amount of minutes off of the bench, as his ability to hit jump shots, especially from beyond the arc, is something that Alabama greatly needs.
A consensus top 3 prospect from Alabama, 6'7 forward Riley Norris from Albertville will also bring a strong ability to hit jump shots to the Tide. Norris can play inside and out, and his ability to grab rebounds is also a plus. His height is a great asset, but he will need to add more to his 180 pound frame if he wants to be able to bang around in the post with SEC level forwards. Defensively, Norris plays very good team defense, although his one-on-one defense will need to improve. Norris averaged 23.0 PPG and 12.0 RPG this year, a strong double-double average. I also expect him to get good minutes off of the bench, as his size and ability to shoot will give Alabama a nice look from the three position.
Anthony Grant's job has become a pretty hot topic amongst Alabama fans, but one of the biggest pros for keeping him is this incoming class. Tarrant and Kessens should immediately get a lot of minutes, and I even expect both of them to start for the Crimson Tide. Coleman, Norris, and Mitchell have great potential, and each brings Alabama something that the Crimson Tide currently lacks. Combine that with the large amount of experience this team will have with guys like Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and Retin Obasohan still around, and one could make the argument that things are looking up. Upcoming Sophomores Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor looked solid in their freshman campaigns; here's hoping that they can develop better than many of our players have in recent years.
Nick Jacobs, Carl Engstrom, and Dakota Slaughter are all questionable right now, as Jacobs left the team a few weeks ago, and Engstrom and Slaughter both have eligibility but are graduating. Alabama may have 3 more scholarships open up. Currently here's how I see next year's roster shaping up:
1. G Ricky Tarrant
2. G Levi Randolph
3. F Shannon Hale
4. F Michael Kessens
5. F Jimmie Taylor
6. F Rodney Cooper
7. G Retin Obasohan
8. G Justin Coleman
9. G Algie Key
10. F Riley Norris
11. G Devin Mitchell
I am of the belief that Engstrom and Slaughter will move on, and that Jacobs won't return to the team. This leaves Alabama with only 11 scholarship players, but it's a deep 11 man roster. Tarrant and Coleman will split playing time at the point, though Tarrant will get the large majority of those minutes. I think Alabama will look for a bigger lineup, allowing Hale to play a more natural three position and also allowing Kessens to take a large majority of minutes at the four. I'm really optimistic about Taylor and his development, and I think he will be a good five position for us for years to come. Levi, Rodney, and Retin need to be a lot more consistent. For Randolph and Cooper, this is their last chance. Key didn't really show much of anything this past year, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Norris and Mitchell get more minutes than him because they can shoot.
Obviously, Releford moving on is going to hurt significantly. Alabama is going to need to see significant contributions from the five new players in order for the Tide to get back to the postseason. I am optimistic about each player individually, but we have been let down by many of Grant's recruits before.
Hope for the best and Roll Tide