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Saturday, January 31, 2009

For Pete's Sake

Game 1 under Pete Herrmann didn't look a whole lot than the past seven under Dennis Felton on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. Georgia was competitive early, let the game get away from them amid a deluge of turnovers and a total inability to guard the perimeter, and the result was the team's eighth straight loss -- but first under Herrmann.

A lot was the same: Terrance Woodbury struggled again, shooting 6-of-15 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3, but his five turnovers were particularly costly, including a ghastly one that led to an easy Bama layup in the waning moments of the game. Georgia had 20 turnovers total and allowed the Tide to shoot 46 percent from 3.

There were some notable differences though.

For one, Felton wasn't there.

"It was a little different not hearing the voice on the sideline," center Albert Jackson said. "Coach Felton is more animated, whereas Coach Hermann is a little more laid back on the sideline, so it was a little bit different not hearing that voice."

Afterward, Herrmann seemed like a guy who was just happy to be coaching basketball, a game he truly loves. While Felton was clearly a fiery and competitive coach, it really never quite came across as enthusiasm. It does with Herrmann, and given the struggles of this team, a little excitement about their jobs might be the best possible medicine.

It shouldn't be any surprise then that several players said that the game was actually fun to play tonight. The loss wasn't fun, but the game was.

"I don't think there was anything much different, but Coach Herrmann just wanted us to get back to having fun playing basketball, sharing the basketball and playing together," Jackson said. "I can say we had fun out there. Losing wasn't fun, but being on the court and the energy we had, that was definitely improved and hopefully we can keep building on it."

That won't be the easiest task in the world, however. Obviously the schedule won't be any simpler going forward. Alabama was also playing with an interim coach just days after Mark Gottfried was fired. The Tide are probably the second-worst team in the SEC, and tonight's 75-70 win over Georgia showed that the difference between the cellar-dwelling Dawgs and the next-best thing was still pretty sizable.

Moreover, the distractions won't end simply because Felton is gone. Already, rumors are spreading like wildfire about who the next coach will be, and for a young team already prone to fluctuations in focus, that's a distraction they don't need.

The AJC reported Saturday before the game that Bobby Knight would want the job if it were offered to him. While that's certainly a name that would spark some immediate interest in the program from fans and recruits, it doesn't exactly seem like the most likely of scenarios. What it does do, however, is provide something for the team to think about that isn't winning games.

After Saturday's loss, Trey Thompkins was asked his thoughts on the potential of Knight coming to Athens.

"I'd like to play for Coach Knight as long as he doesn't hit me," Thompkins said, getting a big laugh from the media contingent. "Coach Knight is a legend. I'd love to have him coach here, and I feel like he'd make me even better than I am now. That would honestly be a tremendous thing to me. I'd be really happy."

Again... distractions.

"There's a lot of distractions right now," Thompkins said. "Of course it's going to be kind of hard for our team to stay focused, but Coach Herrmann is doing a great job of keeping us together as a family and playing with effort and toughness."

Added Jackson: "It was challenging to get it off your mind, but we're being so supportive of each other that it was easy to go out there and just try to have fun. It's always going to be on your mind because you're worried about the future and what's going to happen next year and all that, but at the same time, we are really getting to the point of just making the best out of what we've got."

Sitting front row for the game Saturday was Dr. Michael Adams, the university president, along with several of board members. He said his attendance was a show of solidarity for the team.

"I thought it was important for several of us to be here and support the team tonight," Adams said. "They've been through a lot this week and I think they handled it in a very mature way. I'm proud of them, and I'm proud of the effort tonight."

That doesn't mean he was giving out any other details. In fact, Adams said he will stay out of the hiring process completely until AD Damon Evans has narrowed the candidate list to a set of two or three finalists. What he did say was that he expected those names to include experienced winners.

"(Evans) is going to look for a proven person at this level, and I think we'll find a really good, experienced coach to hire," Adams said. "I think it's important to everyone the students, the alumni and the basketball team. Out of 21 sports, this is the only one with a losing record, and we intend to be competitive at the highest levels of basketball."

A few other interesting quotes from the postgame in Tuscaloosa...

Jackson on the final weeks under Felton...
"I think we had a lot of distractions. When you have people talking about your coach, somebody that you care about, you want to make him look good. You've got everybody talking this and that about your coach, it distracts the players, and we did get distracted at a point. But even in the worst situations, good things can come out of the worst situations, and I think this situation is making us come closer together. We're just trying to get over that hump right now, but I can definitely say in the locker room and on the court we're becoming more of a unit."

Corey Butler on using the changes as an excuse...
"It's not a burden. You're not looking for a scapegoat. We have to get out there and play basketball every day. You're not looking for any excuse."

Herrmann on playing Saturday...
"We thought that the hardest part about it was that we had a game in 48 hours, and that's got to be our concentration, not all the extracurricular stuff. I think the objective was to get ready to play the game, and the guys did a good job of that."

1 comment:

RidgeDawg said...

I think Hermann is doing an admirable job considering the hand he's been dealt. I was a little surprised at how competitive the game was given the events that transpired just days ago.

Though, I guess Alabama is enduring similar circumstances at the moment.

What was the crowd like? Must be strange to see two orphaned teams slog it out.