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    Blue Ribbon Preview: Alabama

    The following excerpt comes from Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the “bible” of college basketball now in its 32nd printing. Edited by SEC Digital Network contributor Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon is a 400-page preview that features full stories on 345 Division I teams. To order a copy, go to www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 877-807-4857.

    ALABAMA

    Key returning player: Trevor Releford (6-0, JR, PG).


    Alabama coach Anthony Grant has much more depth and versatility at the three perimeter positions, led by Releford, a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago. Releford has a chance to bump up to first team if he can make more shots. He’s a career .276 3-point shooter. That lack of a consistent deep touch has, at times, made it easy for teams to contain his penetration.

    “As a freshman he was an unknown, probably an undervalued guy coming into the league, but he made a name for himself,” Grant said. “Last year I knew he wouldn’t catch anyone by surprise. He’d have to take that next step in his game. At times he understood that, and at times he didn’t.

    “As a junior, I’m interested to see where that maturity comes into play. The opportunity is there for him to take ownership of this team.”

    Key newcomer: Devonta Pollard (6-7, FR, F).

    On June 2, Grant and his staff finally received a payoff from three years of hard work on the recruiting trail. That’s the day five-star recruit Devonta Pollard decided to sign with the Crimson Tide.

    Grant was thrilled to land a player he’d recruited since arriving in Tuscaloosa, and with good reason. Before Pollard made his announcement, Alabama hadn’t signed a single recruit in the class of 2012. That alone wouldn’t have been critical, but a failure to get help in the frontcourt, depleted by the graduation of JaMychal Green (14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and a parting of ways with Tony Mitchell (13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg), might have derailed the progress the Tide made in 2011-12, when they returned to the NCAA tournament after a six-year absence.

    In his annual summertime conversation with Blue Ribbon, Grant — who chooses his words carefully, isn’t given to overstatement and doesn’t like to place too much pressure on freshmen — had no trouble talking about how significant the addition of Pollard will be.

    “Devonta is a great addition,” Grant said. “There probably wasn’t a better guy out there in terms of what our needs are, and what he brings. He certainly fills a need in terms of his versatility and skill set and the way he fits into our style of play.”

    Pollard spoke Grant’s language the day he signed, telling ESPN.com, "I chose Alabama because I felt like that was the best fit for me as a player. They play the style that I like to play as far as getting up and down the court, pressing, always in attack mode. That's what keeps me going and has me playing the best that I can."

    Pollard, a 6-7 left-hander who played at Kemper County High School in Porterville, Miss., averaged 23.8 points, 15.7 rebounds and 5.1 blocked shots last season. Though he’s still thin at 200 pounds, Pollard is capable of playing either forward spot, as his rebounding numbers would attest.

    “Offensively, he’s a guy you can move around,” Grant said. “He can play on the perimeter and he can play in the post. He can be a facilitator and a finisher. I think he’ll be able to make 3s, but he’s probably at his best slashing and finishing around the rim.”

    If all that sounds like the talented yet troublesome Mitchell, who was suspended the last 11 games of last season and not welcomed back for his senior year, Grant admits “there are some comparisons.”

    He was talking athletically. As far as maturity, well, Pollard is an old soul and probably wiser than most college players, given the hardships he’s endured. In August 2009, Pollard lost his father after the latter’s 15-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. In April 2011, lighting struck the family home and it burned to the ground. The storm system that inflicted that damage was the same one that unleashed a devastating tornado on Tuscaloosa.