Every week, CNNSI.com's Albert Lin uncovers a new player you should know about now and expect to see much more from later.
Maybe Mars Blackmon was right, lo those many years ago. Maybe it is all about the shoes.
Certainly, Alabama backup point guard/all-around Energizer Bunny Antoine Pettway can relate. We’re not saying that people would fail to notice the junior’s play if he didn’t take the court in his trademark shiny, bright-red Nikes. But having his own pair of ruby slippers has helped the former walk-on stand out in a sea of giants.
“They call me Dorothy when I’m on the road,” Pettway said. “But they love me at home.”
Generously listed at 6-foot and 170 pounds, the Alberta, Ala., native is the kind of spark plug every club would love to have on its bench. Pettway is one of the quickest players in the country from foul line to foul line, with the ball in his hands. He can beat most anyone off the dribble. His high-arcing jumper has to be respected (he shot 49.3 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from 3-point range last season). And he plays the kind of in-your-face defense that opposing ballhandlers fear.
“I watch other teams play on TV and everybody is trying to find a Pettway on their team,” said sophomore starting point guard Maurice Williams, who teams with Pettway more than Pettway actually relieves him. “He just brings so much energy to the floor.”
No commodity is more valuable for a nonstarter.
“I think what [coach Mike Gottfried] likes about me is that I play hard all the time,” Pettway told The Crimson White. “I’m going to make a mistake now and then, but I play so hard that I’m going to make it up three times.”
Because of Williams’ presence, Pettway’s minutes have not increased appreciably from last season to this one. But he is taking full advantage of the time he has on the court. In 'Bama’s first three games, Pettway missed only one shot -- out of 10 -- hitting all three attempts from beyond the arc. He was a key component of the Tide’s season-opening win over No. 3 Oklahoma, despite a sprained knee.
“When it came down the stretch there, Pettway just took over and carried the team on his back,” said senior center Kenny Walker.
What club couldn’t use such a player? Amazingly, in the spring of 2000 just about any major college could have had Pettway, who was lightly recruited despite averaging 24.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists as a senior while leading Camden (Ala.) Wilcox Central to a Class 5A -- Alabama’s second-largest classification -- state title. On top of his basketball accomplishments, Pettway was a 4.0 student and salutatorian of his class.
A host of coaches evidently had blinders on during their recruiting trips through the Heart of Dixie. By the time the Alabama coaching staff learned about Pettway, the program was already out of scholarships. The son of an alum, Pettway -- who was born in Tuscaloosa -- chose to walk on at his father’s alma mater rather than accept a scholarship to Louisiana Tech, Tulane or a smaller school.
Pettway, a biology major, is the living embodiment of a Diamond in the Rough. After contributing his first year mainly as a high-energy, change-of-pace guard (though he did establish his career high -- 19 points -- against Mississippi as a freshman), Pettway earned a grant prior to his sophomore season. He then went out and averaged 6.5 points and 1.7 assists in 19.6 minutes per contest.
The bigger the game, though, the bigger Pettway’s contribution. On Jan. 16, Pettway poured in 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists to help Alabama to a 77-72 win over No. 20 Georgia in Athens. It was the Tide’s first victory on an opposing team’s home court in more than a year.
Five weeks later, Pettway scored the game-winning hoop at the buzzer as Alabama beat Florida 65-64 to clinch a tie for its first SEC title since 1987.
Now, as a junior, Pettway is up to his same old tricks. Against Ohio State last Friday, Pettway played 26 minutes, hit three out of four 3-pointers, scored 11 points, and drew the Buckeyes’ leading scorer, Brent Darby, on the defensive end. He was named MVP of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
“If fans can’t fall in love with this guy, then there’s something wrong with them,” Gottfried said.
So on second thought, maybe it’s not about the shoes when it comes to noticing Antoine Pettway’s game. But they sure don’t hurt.