Steele gives a young team experience, energy boost

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CW | Jingyu Wan

Alabama men’s basketball head coach Anthony Grant has a young roster, with six of 10 scholarship players being freshmen and sophomores. Grant said experience and leadership are keys to his team’s success, but his lineups lacked those qualities in the team’s December struggles.

Much of this was due to the absence of senior guard Andrew Steele, the only senior on Alabama’s roster.

Steele had surgery one month ago to repair a sports hernia that had hindered him for most of the season. He said sitting out was hard for him to handle.

“It was tough to see us get out to such a good start in the month of December, and then [the bad] stretch we had,” Steele said. “For me to not be able to help my teammates was really tough, but the whole time throughout, I just tried to be encouraging and even tried to lead the best way I could.”

Once Steele returned to the active roster, the Tide regained its seasoned veteran to help push through practice. Grant said he noticed an immediate change in the practice atmosphere when Steele returned.

“I think Drew’s impact on our team is tremendous,” Grant said. “When he came back the first day, you saw the level of practice immediately rise up. His impact, his ability to go out there and give you 100 percent on the floor and also communicate with his teammates to help them understand the ebbs and flows of a game is invaluable.”

Grant was not the only one that benefited from Steele’s return to practice. Junior guard Trevor Releford said Steele’s presence gave him and his teammates a leader to follow.

“It’s good having Drew out there on the floor. He’s like a second coach because he knows the game well,” Releford said. “For younger players, he can lead them, as well as me. It’s always good having him out on the floor with me.”

Alabama reaped the benefits of its lone senior’s return against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday. With 3:41 remaining in the second half, Steele went on a rampage and scored six unanswered points in less than 30 seconds. He finished the game with 11 points and four steals off the bench.

Grant said he is pleased to have his leader back in his arsenal and intends to use him as a spark off the bench. He said Steele is usually the missing element that could tilt his team toward victory.

“There are things that may not make the stat sheet but from a coach’s standpoint they make the differzence between having a chance to win ballgames just with the intangibles that he brings: a loose ball here or there, a defensive rotation here or there or whatever it may be that our team was missing,” Grant said. “It’s great to have him back because he fills those gaps for us, and I think he’s a great example to our younger guys in terms of the energy that we need to bring on a daily basis.”