Oh to be a fly on the wall in the visitors locker room at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One can only imagine the message that head coach Anthony Grant is giving his Alabama Crimson Tide (16-7, 5-4 SEC) basketball team as they get ready for a 6 pm CT tip-off against the LSU Tigers (13-10, 3-6). After notching an 18 point victory against rival Auburn on Tuesday without the services of suspended junior forward Tony Mitchell, the Tide looked to finally be living up to it's potential. It was the 3rd straight victory for the Tide, and helped to finally squash the memory of a painful 4 game losing streak earlier in the season. Well, needless to say, looks can be deceiving.
Alabama released a statement today announcing that starting senior forward JaMychal Green, starting senior guard Andrew Steele, and starting sophomore guard Trevor Releford have all been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. As if to make his point that much more clear that the three would not be available for tonight's game, Grant sent all of them back to Tuscaloosa. While Grant would not say what the players had done, he let it be known that the players character issues would not be tolerated.
“We are extremely disappointed in the choices and decisions made by these young men that has led to this suspension,” Grant said in a release. “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice. The consequences of their choices have negatively impacted them as individuals and the people that love and support them. Our hope is that they will be mature enough to accept responsibility for their actions and place a higher value on their character.”
This suspension is un-like any that the sports world has seen in recent memory. Including Mitchell, Grant has suspended 4 starters, 3 of whom were leading the team in scoring. While Green and Mitchell were 1 and 2 in scoring for the Tide, they were also 1 and 2 in rebounding. Releford, who is third on the team in scoring, leads the Tide in assists. Steele, the highly publicized senior who thought his career was over last year due to concussion like systems, has provided a much needed spark for the Tide in the 10 games since he's been back with the team. All 4 players combine for 45 of the Tide's 66 points per game.
Coach Grant will now look to a group of highly-touted freshmen and some reserve sophomores to lead the way for the Tide. Fortunately for Bama, sophomore Guard Charles Hankerson is coming off a 14 point performance at Auburn that saw him shoot 3-3 from behind the arc. Freshman guard Rodney Cooper had 8 points and was 2-2 from long range. Freshman phenom guard Trevor Lacey, who had a 19 point performance against Georgia earlier in the season and is the team's fourth leading scorer, will also be asked to carry a much heavier load. Look for freshman guard Levi Randolph, who has started 22 games this season, and freshman forward Nick Jacobs to both have major playing time tonight.
The Tigers come in to tonight's game looking to avenge an earlier 69-53 loss to the Tide earlier this season. Releford's benching should help their cause. He lit up the Tigers in the previous meeting for 20 points on 9-11 shooting. Coach Trent Johnson's LSU squad is lead by junior center Justin Hamilton and his 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He had 12 points and 6 rebounds in the teams' first meeting. He is helped offensively by two solid guards in the back court. Freshman Anthony Hickey and sophomore Andre Stringer both average right at 10 points a game for the Tigers.
Tonight's match-up is scheduled to be broadcast by ESPN2.