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April 7, 2008

UA point guards in limbo

Throughout Alabama's 2007-08 basketball season, the Crimson Tide had its share of problems at the point guard position, but there was at least plenty of depth in terms of numbers.

Now, there may not even be that.

Recent news of an indefinite suspension for point guard Rico Pickett, a 20-game starter, and Ronald Steele potentially leaving school early for the NBA Draft have placed the Crimson Tide's points guard situation in an off-season limbo. According to a UA release, Pickett was suspended for a violation of team rules.

"We have standards and levels academically as well as athletically that our student-athletes need to meet, and there are consequences when they fail to do that," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried.

It was not Pickett's first time to run afoul of Gottfried.

The freshman was suspended briefly early in the season, but returned in less than a week. His minutes varied wildly throughout the season, from a full-time starting role to token minutes off the bench. For the season, he averaged 5.9 points per game and a team-high 63 turnovers. He also struggled at the free-throw line (.571). Pickett's father, Rico Sr., told the Decatur Daily, his hometown paper, that his son will transfer, although there is no immediate indication of what school he may eventually land.


Pickett's road to playing time was paved by a redshirt season for Steele. An All-American as a sophomore, Steele redshirted last year to recuperate from knee injuries that diminished both his effectiveness and his minutes as a junior in 2006-07. With one season of eligibility remaining, there is no risk in Steele making himself eligible for the draft because he will not sign with an agent.

Under NCAA rules, a player who does not sign with an agent can declare eligibility for the NBA Draft without losing his college eligibility until 10 days prior to the draft. If Steele chooses to withdraw his name from the NBA Draft by June 16, he can return to play his final season with the Crimson Tide.

Steele averaged 14.3 points as a sophomore and was named first-team All-SEC. Steele's father told the Mobile Press-Register that if his son is projected as a first-round pick, he "won't be back. If not, he will."

Gottfried's stance on early NBA Draft entry is similar, and has said in the past that he only advises players to leave early if they project as first-round picks. The likelihood that Steele would be a first-round pick having sat out last season is slim, though his chances would improve if he gets an invitation to the NBA's Pre-Draft Camp.

Returning players Mikhail Torrance and Brandon Hollinger also recorded minutes for the Crimson Tide at point guard last season. Hollinger was Alabama's second-best 3-point shooter last season at .431, and led the team with 103 assists. Torrance averaged just 12 minutes per game but posted the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio (73-33).



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