Alabama basketball team returns to practice

  Head coach Anthony Grant calls plays in the second half. The Florida Gators defeated the Crimson Tide 61-52 Feb. 14.

Alabama basketball began practice last week, preparing for another run at the NCAA Tournament after making it for the first time in six years last season.

“We’ve been able to get at least part of our identity in terms of the guys understanding who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish,” head coach Anthony Grant said Thursday. “I’m very excited about the group of young men that we have this year and the potential that we he have as a basketball team.”

But the team will have to do it with just 10 scholarship players, after some sudden departures in the offseason and a one-man recruiting class left Grant with a depleted roster.

Center JaMychal Green, who led the Crimson Tide in scoring and rebounding, graduated, while forward Tony Mitchell decided to forgo his senior year in the midst of disciplinary issues that kept him off of the court for much of the second half of last season. Guard Charles Hankerson transferred to Wyoming, while backup point guard Ben Eblen decided not to return for his senior season.

“We didn’t expect [Hankerson and Eblen not to come back], but it was one of those things that you can’t really dwell on,” said guard Andrew Steele, the only senior left after Eblen’s departure. “We wish them well in whatever they want to do. Our focus is the team we’ve got now.”

The only newcomer for the Tide is expected to make an impact in a big way. Forward Devonta Pollard, Alabama’s only signee this season, was rated a five-star prospect by most recruiting outlets. The Porterville, Miss., native is already drawing strong praise from his teammates.

“He’s one of the most exciting athletes I’ve been able to play with in terms of his size and his length, his quickness and his jumping ability,” Steele said. “He’s going to be a nightmare for people in the press for how we play.”

“He can fly,” guard Levi Randolph said. “He can jump; he can shoot; he can dribble. He’s going to be a great asset to the team.”

It’s still not set in stone exactly what position Pollard will play. He’s athletic enough to play shooting guard or small forward, but at 6-foot-8, 260 lbs., he has the size to play down low.

“Devonta is a basketball player,” Grant said. “Obviously, as a freshman there’s a lot to learn in what the expectations are, the system, and whatnot, but like I said, I think the veteran guys have done a good job of helping that learning curve for him. He has a very high basketball IQ as well, so he’s been able to pick things up.”

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