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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2006
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Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried has dealt with a patchwork lineup at times because of the absences of center Jermareo Davidson and guard Ron Steele.
AP photo by Dan Lopez
Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried has dealt with a patchwork lineup at times because of the absences of center Jermareo Davidson and guard Ron Steele.

Alabama’s patchwork lineup
With stars Steele and Davidson missing time, Crimson Tide has had to rely on other sources

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaurdaily.com· 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — It’s tough to confuse Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried with Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He lacks the evil eyes, funky haircut or mind bent on world domination.

But with starting guard Ron Steele almost continuously nursing injuries and starting center Jermareo Davidson dealing with personal issues, Gottfried has needed a little of the mad-scientist mindset in formulating all kinds of practice and game schemes.

“You do the best job you can. We just haven’t had two starters practicing,” Gottfried said. “We feel a little bit out of sync because we’re practicing without one or two guys.”

Davidson, a 6-foot-10 senior, ranks second on the team with 14.9 points a game and leads the Southeastern Conference with 10.6 rebounds. Steele, a 6-3 junior, averages 12.7 points and 5.0 assists a game.

Even with the uncertainty surrounding their availability in games and practice, Alabama has done well enough to compile an 8-1 record and reach the ninth spot in the latest Associated Press rankings.

“Without (Steele and Davidson), we’re missing a lot of big time scorers who can create shots on their own,” said Alabama sophomore Richard Hendrix, an Athens High graduate. “We’re all stepping up to this challenge. We just have to do whatever it takes to keep winning.”

Early in the season, Steele struggled with a bad knee. The injury caused him to miss two games, and when he didn’t play, that robbed Alabama of a preseason All-America point guard. While Gottfried tried to pace Steele in hopes that he would get better, his status never changed much.

And then in a loss at Notre Dame on Thursday, Steele compounded the problem by hurting his ankle, which forced him to miss Saturday’s win over Alabama State.

On top of that, Davidson has had to deal with personal tragedy. On Nov. 12, Davidson was involved in a car accident in Atlanta in which his girlfriend was killed.

That came five days after his brother was critically injured in a car accident. His brother is still in the hospital.

Dealing with the aftermath has caused Davidson to miss two games and eight or nine practices, according to Gottfried’s estimate.

Davidson also missed enough class that he withdrew from school Friday, just before the end of the university’s semester.

On Wednesday, the NCAA allowed him to return to the squad and school.

The NCAA has a waiver where it allows student-athletes who have endured tragic circumstances to withdraw from school for that semester and return to their teams and schools the next semester.

While Gottfried has had to work as a sort of trainer for Steele and a friend for Davidson, he also has to work as a coach. And he has faced a big challenge in finding ways to have his team gel with two of its biggest players in and out of the lineup.

When Steele hasn’t played, Gottfried has moved Mykal Riley into his slot. While Riley does not quite have Steele’s offensive touch, he has more than held his own, averaging 11.9 points a game while shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range.

His size — he is 6-6 — coupled with his quickness add a dimension that Steele cannot bring.

“I didn’t think I would get as much playing time,” Riley said. “I’m making the most of my opportunity and making the most of my playing time.”

To make up for Davidson’s absence, Hendrix has stepped forward.

This is nothing new for Hendrix, who also saw his role in the offense increase last year when then-senior Chuck Davis tore a knee ligament in January.

Against Alabama State on Saturday, Hendrix put up a career-high 34 points.

“I guess without Jermareo, last game I took his touches,” Hendrix said.

Surviving without the top guns

Alabama center Jermareo Davidson, the SEC’s leading rebounder, has missed two games, and preseason All-America point guard Ron Steele has sat out three. Even so, the ninth-ranked CrimsonTide has compiled an 8-1 record.

  • When Davidson missed the opening round of the Paradise Jam tournament, Richard Hendrix had 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots in a 71-62 win over Middle Tennessee State.
  • Steele missed a home game against Louisiana-Monroe, but Mykal Riley had 22 points in a 75-61 win by Alabama.
  • Hendrix had 34 points and 10 rebounds when Steele and Davidson missed Alabama’s 92-58 win over Alabama State.
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