Key Losses: G Earnest Shelton (16.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 apg), F Kennedy Winston (17.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg)
Postseason: NCAA: Lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee 83–73 in the first round
Boykin, AL/Wilcox Central
Palm Beach, FL/Dwyer
Decatur, GA/Georgia Perimeter College
If Hendrix was talented enough to consider jumping directly to the pros out of high school, the big power forward should be able to make an impact in the SEC. The additions of George and Gee in the backcourt should provide a jolt of depth the Tide lacked in 2004-05. Coleman and Hollinger have the look of redshirts.
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Mark Gottfried's goal of making the Tide a perennial NCAA Tournament team and SEC championship contender will require a new view this season.
With the departures of wing players Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton, the No. 1 and No. 7 scorers in the league respectively, qualifying for a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament will demand a renewed emphasis on the inside game.
Veteran post players Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson are prepared to have more of the offense funnel into the paint. Point guard Ronald Steele is a third returning starter who needs to pick up some of the perimeter-scoring slack.
"You lose Shelton and Winston, two experienced scorers in this league, and that hurts," says Gottfried. "We'll be a little different this year. Our strength should be around the basket."
While the Crimson Tide search for more scoring punch, their improved athleticism should help them win games. Jean Felix is a tougher on-ball defender than Winston at the 3-spot, and his explosive first step and ability to attack the rim add a dimension to the offense.
Bama should have one of the best frontlines in the south with the Double-D towers supplemented by Evan Brock and blue-chip freshman Richard Hendrix. Davis and Davidson are shot-blockers who can score. Davis' old-school set shot extends to 18 feet, and he's tricky around the hoop with his low-post repertoire.
Davidson had a hard-to-fathom flirtation with the NBA Draft, but elected to return for a third year. The soft-spoken junior improved his range, shot selection and rebounding prowess as a role player last year and should have more freelance options this time around.
Brock's jumper is an erratic line drive, but he's tough around the goal as a long-armed rebounder and clean-up artist and provides a spark as the front man on the press.
Hendrix chose Alabama over North Carolina and the NBA. His length and bulk should provide immediate dividends on the boards, and he has the scoring skills to impact the league much as LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis did as a freshman last year.
Steele will be counted on to do more than feed the trees as a sophomore. Playing with the maturity of a veteran, Steele patiently worked the ball to Alabama's wing stars and big men last year at the expense of his own scoring.
The Crimson Tide cannot afford for Steele to be that laid-back now. Look for him to penetrate to the rack more often and shoot more 3-pointers.
Felix showed a deft long-range game on occasion last year, but after surprising teams such as Ole Miss and Mississippi State last year, his reputation as a big leaper, 3-point shooter (.526 in SEC play) and swift swingman will precede him this time around.
Junior college transfer Ray George has an edge on the starting job at shooting guard, though returnee Justin Jonus will be in the mix. George is a natural scorer who can also slide over and handle point guard duties.
"I think he's going to be a valuable player because of that," Gottfried says.
Jonus' clutch 3-pointer helped beat Temple early last year, but his minutes and his 3-point accuracy dropped off in league play.
Freshman swingman Alonzo Gee might factor into the mix, while classmate Brandon Hollinger probably needs some seasoning on the Division I level.
The elements should be in place for the Crimson Tide to put up a stout defense of its SEC West title and extend its NCAA tourney streak to five. Big strides by Steele and Davidson and a smooth transition into the starting lineup for Felix are the big keys. Gottfried might be wise to spread the minutes among more players than he normally does and more fully utilize a full-court press that came up huge in several games a year ago.
Alabama's NCAA experiences over the last five years should help.
"They expect (to make the NCAAs)," says Gottfried, who led the Tide to its first Elite Eight appearance in 2004. "The standard has been set."
Alabama might not have the firepower to reach a regional final again, but outside of Kentucky, that's staying on pace with today's postseason-challenged SEC.