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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2007
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North Alabama's Kenny Johnson dribbles past Alabama freshman guard Rico Pickett (11) in an exhibition game Monday in Tuscaloosa. Pickett, a Decatur High grad, is expected to contribute in his first year at the school.
AP photo by Dan Lopez
North Alabama's Kenny Johnson dribbles past Alabama freshman guard Rico Pickett (11) in an exhibition game Monday in Tuscaloosa. Pickett, a Decatur High grad, is expected to contribute in his first year at the school.

Hendrix steps into Tide leadership role

A look at Auburn basketball will be published Thursday.

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama basketball standout Richard Hendrix looked to his left and yelled an order to sophomore teammate Justin Tubbs.

Tubbs was still in street clothes, running toward the Crimson Tide locker room at Coleman Coliseum, and Hendrix wanted to make sure Tubbs took part in a routine event.

"Make sure you weigh in," Hendrix said.

Tubbs responded, "I did — 192!"

It marked a small example of the leadership role Hendrix has taken for his team as Alabama prepares to open its season Friday against Troy.

Shooting guard Mykal Riley is the only senior starter returning from an Alabama team that went 20-12 last season and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.

For Hendrix, a junior, the larger role was thrust upon him unexpectedly and prematurely. When Alabama announced Sept. 17 that senior point guard Ronald Steele would be redshirted for the 2007-08 season for a knee condition, Hendrix realized the focus would fall upon him.

"A lot of people had the expectation that (Ron) would be here. So you go from a co-leader to almost putting it on your shoulders," Hendrix said. "I can't be a junior anymore. You have to be like a senior — the guy who has been around, who knows everything."

Joining the Athens High grad on the team is freshman point guard Rico Pickett, a Decatur High grad and last season's state Class 5A player of the year.

Alabama struggled to get the ball inside to the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Hendrix. Near the end of last season, then-freshman Mikhail Torrance manned the point position after Steele's injuries forced him to the bench, and the entry pass inside suffered.

According to Pickett, he and Hendrix have figured out where Hendrix wants the ball.

"He likes it where like he doesn't have to bend down too far to catch the ball," Pickett said. "He likes it on time. If you did well or you didn't, he'll let you know."

Leading into Friday's game, Pickett said there are no nerves. He is almost unrecognizable these days, as he shaved off his signature cornrow haircut from his high school days. It's a more mature look for a maturing individual.

"I am more businesslike this way and more professional this way," Pickett says.

Last spring, Pickett said his goal was to be the SEC freshman of the year. A few days away from his first year, he hasn't backed down from that statement.

"I feel like just about all of (my goals) are attainable to me," Pickett said. "Just if I play hard, and do what I can do for the team. I'm just focused on what we can do first."

Alabamaís hoops season begins

Season opener: Friday vs. Troy at home, 7 p.m.

Last seasonís record: 20-12 (7-9 SEC).

Starters returning: F Richard Hendrix, Jr., 14.6 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 1.3 blocks; F Alonzo Gee Jr., 12.6 ppg., 5.3 rpg.; G Mykal Riley, Sr., 12.6 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 1.7 assists.

Analysis: Nobody knows how the team will respond without senior point guard Ronald Steele, who is sitting out the season because of bad knees. Friday will be a good indication.

Josh Cooper

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