LAST SEASON: 24-9; lost to Kentucky in NCAA round of 16.
GOODBYE TO: Forward Buck Johnson, the team's three-time leading scorer.
SUPPORTING CAST: Guard Terry Coner; swingman Jim Farmer; guard Mark Gottfried.
INTRODUCING: 6'6" freshman Keith Askins, who could be the next McKey.
SEE YOU IN THE SUPERDOME IF: 'Bama can shake its Bluegrass complex and beat Kentucky, something it could not do in four tries in '85-86.
Derrick McKey studies advertising at Alabama, and he has learned his lessons well. At lunch one day it wasn't hard to figure out who he was. His T-shirt had a basketball motif; his hat was emblazoned with an insignia and a pin from the World Basketball Championships; a notebook had a similar emblem; and he wore a gold chain with a dollar-sign pendant around his neck.
The dollar sign was perfect because McKey is money in the bank. He is a certified back-at-you human rejection notice and perhaps the only legitimate big man in the Southeastern Conference. McKey also was SEC's lone representative in last summer's Worlds in Spain, where he started in 9 of 10 games and helped the U.S. win the gold medal by surprising the U.S.S.R. and its highly touted center Arvidas Sabonis. But none of that particularly impressed McKey. "I'd rather beat Auburn than the Russians," says the junior.
McKey is on the fast track these days. "He's the best big man in the league," says Sonny Smith, the coach of hated Auburn, which is on the southern side of Alabama's Cotton Curtain. "Defensively, he's the best, and he can step outside and shoot." McKey is 6'9", and he has bulked up to 205 pounds. His nickname should be Offshore because with his thin, stiltish legs he looks like some kind of structure sticking up out of the Gulf of Mexico.
On the inside he is a sneak defender, a shot blocker from the shadows. "Most of the time the guys don't see me," says McKey. "They think they've got their man beat, and I come out of nowhere."
"Out of nowhere" is McKey's career description. Thirty months ago he was a nobody. McKey is from Meridian, Miss., about 90 miles from Tuscaloosa and hardly a basketball hotbed. Baseball fans know Meridian as the hometown of the Red Sox' Oil Can Boyd. In high school McKey was built like a question mark: a quiet, raw, droopy kid who could bench-press about 50 pounds on a good day. People questioned his aggressiveness. Crimson Tide coach Wimp Sanderson gave him cursory recruitment attention—"Oh, by the way, Derrick," said Wimp about 10 minutes after McKey began a visit to Tuscaloosa, "have a good trip home"—then considered redshirting him as a freshman.