Basketball is flat in the state of Alabama

Alabama Crimson Tide not alone in basketball mediocrity in this state

By Hunter Ford

I watched Alabama play Georgia in basketball last Saturday. The late great writer from Atlanta, Lewis Grizzard, once described watching a football game between two mediocre teams as “like watching two mules fight over a turnip.” The Tide and Dawgs looked like that playing basketball.

Georgia won the game, but it wasn’t pretty on either side really. Alabama just played much worse. I’m not a great basketball analyst, but there were two big factors I noticed. Alabama took, and missed, too many three-point shots, and they laid bricks at the free-throw line. Do that against a moderately competent opponent, and you usually lose.

The Crimson Tide is not alone in the state of Alabama as a mediocre roundball squad. There are only three state schools that play major-league college basketball who own winning records and only one with 10 wins or more. UAB, which lost its conference opener, sits at 11-4 overall with a win over then number 16 North Carolina on its resume. The Blazers will play Texas-San Antonio Thursday at Bartow Arena.

The Alabama State Hornets are 9-6 overall and 3-1 in conference play, and Auburn is 8-5 overall with a 0-2 SEC record. Alabama, Troy, Samford, Alabama A&M and South Alabama all have losing records.

All of our state schools have experienced some level of success in their history. On a lower level, Birmingham-Southern has won national championships. The Panthers are barely above .500 this year.

The golden age of basketball in the state of Alabama, in my opinion, was the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. During most of that time, Wimp Sanderson was at Alabama, Sonny Smith at Auburn, and Gene Bartow at UAB. South Alabama, with Ronnie Arrow, had some success too. Back then, NCAA Tournament appearances were not only common, but expected. Our state’s basketball teams produced NBA players.

The personalities of Sanderson, Smith and Bartow really defined those programs. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but basketball in Alabama was fun to watch and to keep up with. Before I watched the Alabama-Georgia game, I couldn’t tell you the name of any player on the Alabama team except for Trevor Releford, and I only had a passing knowledge of Anthony Grant, the head coach. Apparently, Grant was hired to try and emulate the success of the Florida Gators, who Grant coached as an assistant during SEC and national championship runs in the 2000’s. It’s not really working out.

Like I’ve said, I’m not the best basketball analyst. But, just like in football, I know that to win, you have to recruit great talent, and then you have to teach them fundamentals like “don’t keep shooting threes and missing too many of them when you are in a close game…and make your free throws.”

How do we get back to winning? Is firing the coach the answer? Who else could we get? Does the Alabama administration not put enough emphasis and resources into basketball? What more could it do? Alabama, historically, is the second winningest team in the SEC, behind Kentucky.

I’ve seen Alabama basketball in good times. And I’ve seen other SEC teams have success. The Tide plays Mississippi State Wednesday at Coleman Coliseum, with State bringing in an 11-4 record. I’d like to be excited about it. I really would.