Anthony Grant is gone, Bill Battle is seemingly making major moves, and the Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball program is at a crossroads. Grant was able to accomplish some great things for the University, but his six year tenure as a whole has to be seen as a failure. Compounding the hardships of Alabama's lack of success on the hardwood has been watching former Tide coach Mark Gottfried rake in win after win in the NCAA Tournament over the last four years with NC State. Meanwhile, the lay of the land around Tuscaloosa is shifting massively, as the SEC has suddenly started making the kind of investments in basketball that the conference as a whole has been pouring into football for decades. Bruce Pearl lurks at the other end of the state, laying the foundation for what will surely be a successful tenure at Auburn. The Tide's closest neighbor, Mississippi State, wasted no time in replacing Rick Ray, one of the worst coaches in the conference, with a guy who has been to three Final Fours in Ben Howland. UAB just made a fantastic run to the Round of 32 with a young team that will only improve in the near future. It wouldn't be far-fetched to say that Battle and the Athletics Department are facing arguably the biggest, and most crucial hire in the history of Alabama basketball.
Making a decision this mountainous will be difficult for Battle, a guy who was supposed to be a fill-in of sorts as the Athletics Director. However, after keeping things under wraps for a while, Battle appears to be swinging for the fences with this coaching search. His tenure at Alabama will probably be a very short one, relative to other ADs in the past. However, Coach Battle could end up creating a legacy that will last for a very long time if he can land the right guy to return Alabama basketball to it's rightful place near the top of the SEC. Regardless of who Battle is able to coerce into moving to the Capstone, the new coach will face a bevy of challenges in trying to restore Alabama's former winning tradition. However, there are plenty of pieces currently in Tuscaloosa that can be utilized to make this process a more effective and efficient one. So what areas will the new coach need to address in order to take the Tide to the top?
Keep the Roster Intact and Develop It
Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper will be very tough pieces of the puzzle to replace, as the duo led the Tide in many areas this past season, particularly on offense. However, this year's team was a relatively young one, and there are plenty of pieces that could be utilized to make this a successful team in Year One. Make no mistake, the program has been in a lull in recent years, but the cupboard is far from bare. The right coach needs to keep this team together, because there is plenty of potential. For starters, Ricky Tarrant should return 100% and ready to really take over in his final season. Tarrant has the ability to be one of the better scorers in the SEC next season. His ball-handling and dribble penetration are excellent, he sees the court well, and he can take the ball to the rim with a strong burst. He needs to work on his consistency as a shooter, but the right coach should be able to help him in that regard. The other returning senior, Retin Obasohan, can be one of the most explosive players in the conference. His ability to defend and turn a steal into a quick basket is a very valuable asset. He is also adept at driving the lane and getting to the basket, but he needs to learn to reel it in a bit. A more controlled Obasohan could be a quality addition, especially in a reserve role.
Justin Coleman and Riley Norris need to be groomed, and quickly. Both guys have shown plenty of ability, but they have been spotty. This is not surprising for a pair of freshmen, but it will be imperative that the new coach get the best out of these two next season. Coleman has a burst that few do, and he can definitely handle the ball. He needs to become a better scorer. Norris was a great glue guy for Bama this past year, but he could be so much more. He has the range to be a lethal perimeter threat, but his shot needs a little more on it. He often falls just short on his attempts, but the shots have been true. Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens really need to learn two major things that will help them succeed. First of all, they both need to learn how to defend without fouling. Working on body control and quicker feet will have to be stressed for the Tide's two true post players. Secondly, the two of them have got to learn how to score more consistently. Taylor needs to be taught how to properly put rotation on the basketball, as his strange motion has cost him dearly as a free throw shooter. Kessens just needs to work on being able to consistently hit his jump shots. There were times where he could knock down the short jumpers with great precision; that needs to be a focus of his this off-season. Shannon Hale has the size and the ability to be a very good inside-out forward; he just really needs some direction.
Bring in Some New Talent
One of Anthony Grant's harshest criticisms was that, aside from the excellent 2011 class, he really struggled to bring in quality contributors. Even the 2014 class, which was one of his best, missed on guys like William Lee, who subsequently tore it up at UAB this past season. The 2015 class had been shaping up as a mostly "meh" kind of class, and now consensus 3-star guard Dazon Ingram has decommitted for the time being. Whoever the new coach is will need to start bringing in more talent than Grant did. Not only that, but he needs to be able to keep those guys in the program, something that Grant could never really master. It's not even so much that Alabama has to go out and grab a bunch of 4-stars, but they need to find guys who can fill roles. Grant for whatever reason could never seem to find himself a true shooter or a legit post player.
Put Some Butts in Those Seats
The last two-to-three seasons have seen major declines in attendance. This is a result of hard-to-watch offense, extremely slow pace of play, too many heartbreaking losses, and the predictability of how Alabama games would always end up. The Tide faithful deserve to have some excitement back in Coleman Coliseum. Up-tempo play, smooth offensive flow, big wins at least every now and then, etc. It would be a great help if the University would finally help create a fun atmosphere in the cave that is Coleman. Adding some better lighting or somehow moving the seats closer to the court would be a great place to start. Most importantly though, the administration has to reorganize the student section. It's amazing how much better the atmosphere is at arenas where the students are given prime seating, and not the old stooges who come to a handful of games a season, only to complain about how loud the guy two rows in front of him is being.
Alabama's new coach needs to be much more open and charismatic. Grant was an awesome guy, but he was very much an introvert. No one is asking for someone to step in and grab the spotlight like Pearl has in Auburn, but there needs to be much more communication between the Crimson Tide head coach and the likes of the media, alumni, boosters, and high school coaches.
Alabama is one of the premier jobs in the SEC, second only to Kentucky and Florida. The Crimson Tide own seven SEC Championships, six SEC Tournament Championships, twenty NCAA Tournament appearances, eight Sweet Sixteen appearances, and a remarkable Elite Eight run in 2004. The mediocrity of the last near-decade is not what Alabama basketball is about. Tide Hoops has always had a winning culture, and it's about time that tradition was restored in Tuscaloosa. With the major overtures being thrown Gregg Marshall's way right now, it's clear that Battle and the administration are serious about making the commitment to bring high-level hoops back to Alabama. Whether or not they can pull it off will decide the fate of Bama Hoops for years to come.