Bama hoops desperately seeking breakout performers

By Chris DePew
TideFans.com Staff
Oct. 28, 2015

Saying a basketball roster is full of complementary players isn’t much of a compliment.

Alabama finds itself with a number of players who would be great in supporting roles on a more-complete team. What the Crimson Tide lacks is star power, a single player (never mind two or three) who are reliable scorers that can also add in healthy rebounding numbers, or are superior defenders or can rack up assists. All three players who averaged double-digit points last season (Levi Randolph, Ricky Tarrant and Rodney Cooper) are gone.

New coach Avery Johnson has a very good recruiting class shaping up for the 2016-17 season, but this year’s crop of newcomers may not provide the instant breakthrough player the Tide needs to keep pace in an improving SEC. Top 100 recruit Kobie Eubanks looked like the best bet, but failed to qualify academically. That leaves talented-but-raw in-state recruits Dazon Ingram, Brandon Austin and Donta Hall, along with graduate transfer Arthur Edwards, who was a role player with New Mexico.

So out of those who remain from last year’s NIT team, who is most likely to not merely improve but break through and become Bama’s leading man? Let’s look at the top candidates:

  • Jimmie Taylor (PF/C, Jr., 6-10/248 lbs.): The Greensboro native isn’t the top returning scorer, but he has the highest ceiling of any returning player. Painfully unpolished as a freshman, he started every game last season and showed a much better understanding of how to use his body to score in the low post. He had 59 blocked shots and averaged nearly five rebounds a game. What has killed his productivity is chronic foul trouble, something that didn’t get better in his second season. If a new coaching staff can get him to play smarter defense, his shooting touch (60.2 percent from the field in 2014-15) will add much-needed points.
  • Shannon Hale (SF, Jr., 6-8/233): He averaged 8.2 points per game but was heating up in SEC play before a season-ending injury in late February, scoring 10 or more points in six of his last eight games. Hale was on the SEC All-Freshman team in 2014, but broke his foot later that spring and performed unevenly to begin his sophomore season. He broke the same foot against South Carolina and is just now beginning to go through drills. If his shooting form returns to at least his freshman levels (43.3% FG, including 35.2% from 3-point range) he will be a solid contributor. If he can exceed that, he joins Taylor as a darkhorse All-SEC candidate.
  • Retin Obasohan (PG, Sr., 6-2/210): Buried on the bunch for much of the first half of the season, Obasohan shined when a wave of injuries and Justin Coleman’s freshman struggles left former coach Anthony Grant little choice but to play the Belgian. The only returning Tide senior, he scored in double digits in all but one of Alabama’s last dozen games and averaged 12.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in the last 14 contests. More of a natural shooting guard, Obasohan was switched to the point out of necessity. He’s a capable ball handler but isn’t particularly skilled at distributing the ball, and has finished with more turnovers than assists in all three seasons in Tuscaloosa. If Coleman can grow into a capable point guard or Ingram shines as a freshman then Obasohan could switch back and build on his totals. More likely though, his numbers from last season’s stretch run represent the top end of his potential.
  • Justin Coleman (PG, Soph., 5-10/168): A Top 50 national recruit out of Birmingham basketball powerhouse Wenonah, Coleman has gone from the Next Big Thing to an almost-forgotten man. In an age where the best freshmen dominate the college game, it’s tempting to write off players who don’t match their high school hype right away. And make no mistake, Coleman crashed hard, shooting under 25 percent from beyond the arc and barely making more than a quarter of all his shots from the field. His 48 assists were only third on a team that finished next-to-last in the SEC (and 311th nationally) with 10.3 assists per game. With his slight build, Coleman needs time to develop his body to withstand the grind of the college game, but he showed just enough flashes to remind everyone why he had the best recruiting profile of any current Crimson Tide player. Coach Johnson made his living in the NBA as an undersized point guard, and Coleman seems more than willing to put in the hard work needed to improve. He still has a chance to be special, but the payoff may not be immediate.

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