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Monday, April 14, 2008

"Business As Usual"

The words of Mark Gottfried when asked recently about the state of Alabama's basketball program after another tumultuous season, the second straight missing the NCAA tournament. Many around the program have been waiting on some word from Mark's superior, Mal (Mal-function in some circles) Moore relative to Gottfried's performance of the past few years.

The silence has been deafening. Of course, why would Mal have to say anything?? He has a coach under contract. He certainly knows what's been going on. We've been told Wendell Hudson was dispatched to monitor the team and report to Mal his findings during the course of this past season. (and apparently Mal was so impressed with his work, he promoted Wendell to head coach of the women's basketball team. Looks like something you would see happen at your local high school)

The one post-season tournament Alabama did make was the SEC Tournament. (note that their presence was mandatory) That tournament was certainly eventful with the tornado during the 'Bama/Miss. State game and it's aftermath. But what flew under the radar for most was Gottfried's post-game interview with RayCom after Alabama's first round victory over Florida. Mark was obviously elated to have won that game and made no effort to hide it. He looked like a schoolgirl who'd just been told she'd won a backstage pass to a Justin Timberlake concert.

In this season of discontent we've seen many things around this program due to the increased scrutiny and criticism of Gottfried. He's been more animated courtside. His wife went into the stands at a game and publicly accosted a media member. The spin control out of the Gottfried camp has racheted up exponentially. But his display during that interview seemed genuine. Gottfried looked as if he'd been freed of the albatross. I'll always believe there was more riding on that game than we'll ever be told. It was just a first round conference tournament game. Bill Self wasn't that excited after winning the National Championship. It was obvious Mark Gottfried did not want to go home one-and-done and the thing is no one expected him to go over there and do anything. No one we know of. For those searching for wisps of smoke.....

Since, despite the annual revival of Alabama's third favorite sport - spring football practice - (second? football recruiting) the basketball program's been in the news bigtime. Richard Hendrix and Ron Steele have declared for the NBA draft. Justin Tubbs and Rico Pickett will transfer. Nothing really unusual in this. Happens everywhere, every year. But the events surrounding Pickett and Steele's declarations make them unusual.

Few saw the Steele thing coming. One who apparently did was Bill Ellis. Conventional wisdom said coming off a medical redshirt year to heal his knees, Ron would need another year at 'Bama to prove himself healthy and up to the rigors of NBA play. Talking points from the Gottfried camp told us Steele would return and things would change. But Bill recently blogged that he's known this information for five months. Let me be perfectly clear that I like and trust Bill Ellis. He's a knowledgable basketball man and a loyal fan of the program. But this revelation means around the time Ron decided to sit out the '07-'08 season, he'd made up his mind to test the draft. Around late January Mark Gottfried, under intense criticism, and his minions started telling anyone who would listen Ron Steele was well on his way to full recovery and was consistently the best player in practice. This surprised no one because upon his arrival at 'Bama, Ron was the best basketball player to play there in some time.

Not long after season's end, the tone changed.

Gottfried was asked recently about the team's prospects with a healthy Steele:

“and Ronald Steele — there’s an if there — is he going to be healthy?” Gottfried said. “But if things can come together, I think it can be very exciting,”

Are we now talking about the same player who's been the best in Mark Gottfried's practices for two-plus months?

"This decision may come as a surprise to some," Steele said at a news conference, accompanied by coach Mark Gottfried. "While I did not participate in any games this year, I did practice fully with the team. Since January I have felt as good physically as at any time during my career.

Yeah. Sounds like the biggest surprise was to his coach. To be fair, Steele said his decision had not been finalized until after the season was over. But that begs the question, why did he feel the need to say that?

Declaring for the draft and returning to school is certainly a common thing these days. Many with NBA potential do so to get a taste of the process and learn expectations. They do this with the full expectation of returning. But read Ron's quote:

"I'm going with the intentions of putting in my best," Steele said. "I'm serious about it. I wouldn't be wasting time pursuing my dream. I'm full speed ahead, 100 percent committed to it.

That doesn't sound like someone who wants to come back. Ron's out to prove himself a first-round pick. He wants the hell out.

Ditto Rico Pickett. The Pickett story was interesting from the beginning in that the first news out on that was from a university press release late on a Sunday night. Gottfried had "suspended" Pickett for "failure to comply with team rules".

"We have standards and levels academically as well as athletically that our student-athletes need to meet, and there are consequences when they fail to do that," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said in a prepared statement.

Translation: Pickett was flunking out.

Enter Pickett's father.

"He told them that he wanted to leave. They told him they weren't going to release him."

Translation: You can go but you're going to have to sit a year if you do.

"This is their way of fighting back, saying that he is suspended for academic reasons. He has the same grades that he has had since he has been at Alabama."

Translation: Come clean Mark.

When it became obvious the Pickett's weren't going to take the slander lying down, the Gottfried camp released Pickett unconditionally from his scholarship and clammed up. Well, almost.

"If we have a player who feels he will be happier somewhere else, I will support them 100 percent if they choose to pursue another opportunity. I don't really have anything else to say about it right now."

Translation: Don't let the doorknob slap your ass on the way out.

And what else could Mal possibly add to that?

Without a doubt, most of what is opined here is reading between the lines. But if one wants the truth concerning Mark Gottfried's basketball program, it's required reading.

Yup, business as usual.

1 comment:

Mitchell said...

I remember telling my old man when Steele announced he was sitting out that we would never see Steele in an Alabama uniform again. It just didn't seem right to me that everyone was saying Ron would be back, and then the decision to sit out the year came out of nowhere.
Everyone has been slandering Rico Pickett, calling him a troublemaker and worse, but I don't get the feeling that this is Pickett's fault. I think part of it might be attributable to some immaturity that Pickett showed at times during the year, but most of seems like it was a realization by Pickett and his family that the prospects for success at Alabama (individual and team) were looking a bit dim.
I didn't see the interview with Gottfried after the Florida game, but he may very well have been coaching for his job in that game. It begs the question since that was easily Bama's best game of the year: why does this cat wait until his back is against the wall?
In the end, it may be a moot point. If Steele and Hendrix don't return next year, Gottfried's prospects of a successful season will take a hit and that should be the end of that.
Believe it or not, I don't have any agenda against the guy. I wish he could be the guy to build the program to the heights its capable of. But the underachiements of this program, which extend further than the last two years, have to be addressed at some point.