Trevor Releford helps teammates learn by coming off the bench

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NEW YORK – Last season, Alabama had plenty of preseason expectation.

There weren’t exactly picked to run through the SEC — that won’t happen for anyone as long as Coach Cal is stockpiling first round picks up in Lexington — but the Crimson Tide were a trendy pick to finish second in the conference in 2011-2012. That didn’t happen, however, as Alabama watched their star upperclassmen manage to get themselves suspended in the middle of conference play. Tony Mitchell went so far as to get himself kicked ou of the program.

As a result, the Tide floundered, limping into and out of the NCAA tournament with an opening round loss to Creighton. With a very young team returning for this season — the core of Anthony Grant’s team are freshmen and sophomores, with the exception of junior point guard Trevor Releford — the tidal wave of hype hitting the gridiron this season did not find its way into Coleman Coliseum.

But after starting the season 3-0, including last-second wins over South Dakota State and Oregon State, all of a sudden the Crimson Tide look like a group that might be able to make a run at an at-large bid. And their doing it while bringing arguably their most important player off of the bench.

“I just felt like it’s the right thing for our team right now,” Grant said of bring Releford off the bench. “He understands what we’re trying to do and I think he’s been really, really good for us, if you look at the numbers he’s putting up, the leadership he provides, the spark that he gives us. I think it’s good for our team.”

Releford certainly is putting up numbers. In the two games against Division I competition, Releford is averaging 16.0 points while shooting 12-23 (52.2%) from the floor and handing out seven assists to just a single turnover. More importantly, however, when Releford is on the floor, Alabama’s offense simply runs more smoothly. He’s a point guard. He’s a facilitator. He gets the Tide into their offensive sets and he breaks down the defense if that doesn’t work.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Alabama’s sixth-man has been their MVP through the first week of the season.

“He’s a good kid and I think he understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Grant said. “He understands the bottom line is that he’s going to be out there and have an opportunity to make plays. If you look the games we’ve played, he’s out there. I think too much is made sometimes of whether or not a kid’s starting or not.”

Grant’s thinking is that early in the season, he needs to start developing his younger and more inexperienced players. He needs to build a rotation and develop a bench. He needs to get the guys that are going to be counted on in March into games early and allow them to get a sense of what it means to play basketball at this level.

“For us to be where we want to be, we have to build confidence in our young guys. We have an extremely young team,” Grant said, and Thursday’s 65-62 win over Oregon State was the perfect example in his eyes. After extending the lead to as much as 15 points on the Beavers, Alabama allowed them to claw their way back into the game. This is how close the Beavers were to coming all the way back — Ahmad Starks hit a three that would have tied the game with just a couple ticks left on the clock if his head coach hadn’t called a timeout a second before he released the shot.

“The mark of a young team, we thought “clock run out” as opposed to going and finishing the game,” Grant said. “The thing I told our guys is we gotta learn from this game how to stay aggressive and compete and do the things that allows us to build the lead from an offensive and a defensive standpoint, and we kind of got away from that.”

Alabama has some pieces this year. In addition to Releford, sophomores Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper join freshman Devonta Pollard to give Grant a talented perimeter rotation loaded with potential. Throw in a trio of big bodies in the paint and senior swingman Andrew Steele, and this is a group that can ruffle some feathers in a top-heavy SEC if they can manage continuing to learn how.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn, and I think the best way to do that is to win,” Grant said. “I’d rather learn through winning than learn through losing and have to take some heartbreaking losses to clear things out.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

John Wall is heading back to school to get a business degree

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John Wall, the former Kentucky star that helped launch Coach Cal’s one-and-done movement in Lexington, is planning on using a piece of that $207 million contract extension that he signed last July for summer school.

“I’m going back to school this summer to get my business degree,” Wall told the Washington Post this week. “That’s what I’m focusing on. I promised my dad that.”

Wall’s dad died when he was eight years old, and anyone that knows his story knows that it hasn’t been the easiest path for Wall to get from that moment to this moment.

So good for John.

Seriously.

I do believe that it is important to educate yourself, even if that education is something as simple as learning how to run a business on your own.

But I also think that, in the larger context of basketball and, specifically, the one-and-done rule, this is important to note. Wall left school as a 19-year old, made a whole bunch of guaranteed money on his rookie deal, got more guaranteed money on his first contract extension and now is working under a contract that will pay him nine figures with a crooked number in front. Throw in endorsement deals, and by the time Wall hangs up his sneakers, he could end up banking close to half a billion dollars.

That’s more than enough money to be able to pay for three years worth of classes at Kentucky to finish his undergrad degree, get a master’s and become a PhD. For Wall, that financial hit would be like the financial hit you or I take for adding chips and guac at Chipotle. (But not queso. We pretend their queso doesn’t exist.)

My point is this: The time a person has to educate themselves never ends. The time that Wall, or any professional athlete, has to profit off of their ability does, and much sooner than most think.

So the next time you decide to criticize a player for leaving school early to chase their professional dreams or because they’re just looking to get paid or because they don’t care about education, just think about this.

USC guard to leave school, turn pro

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It appears that De’Anthony Melton’s college career has come to an end.

The 6-foot-3 shooting guard for the USC Trojans announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving school. Melton, a sophomore, was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball and has not played in a game this season.

“I have reached a crossroads wherein I have decided to focus on honing my strengths and improving upon my weakness for competition at the next level,” Melton said in a statement.

And athletic wing with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Melton averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 boards, 3.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a freshman. He is considered a potential first round pick.

CBT Podcast: Louisville’s NCAA ruling and what’s in store for the coaching carousel

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Old friend of the podcast Jeff Goodman joined Rob Dauster on Wednesday to walk through everything that is happening with the punishments received by Louisville as well as a breakdown of this year’s coaching carousel and the changes that could be coming down the pipeline this season. There’s a chance, with the FBI investigation looming, that this year could get crazy. They talk about just how likely that is and who could be the names that you see taking over on some of the hottest seats. The rundown:

OPEN: Louisville’s banner comes down and what they will do with their head coaching position

14:30: Arizona, Kansas and Michigan State all have smoke surrounding them. Will Bill Self, Sean Miller or Tom Izzo move? Will this year’s carousel be crazy?

19:45: Will UConn and Memphis find the money to buy out their coaches?

27:30: Search Firm! Who should ADs with coaches on the hot seat target, and who will they hire.

Iowa State’s Weiler-Babb, Young could miss rest of the season

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Iowa State could play the rest of this season without Nick Weiler-Babb and Solomon Young as the school announced Tuesday that both players are dealing with knee injuries.

Weiler-Babb has been battling tendinitis in his left knee during this season as he sat out four games during the year. Although Weiler-Babb returned to play in the last two games for the Cyclones, he got another medical opinion over the weekend.

Young had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Tuesday as he’s expected to miss the next three-to-four weeks.

“It is unfortunate for Nick and Solomon because of the hard work they have put into our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement. “We always want to do what is in the best interest of our players and their health is our top priority.”

Weiler-Babb, a 6-foot-5 junior guard, put up 11.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game for the Cyclones this week while Young, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, averaged 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per contest.

Since Iowa State is at .500 and likely won’t play in any significant postseason, these injuries will give them a chance to give some minutes to some younger and more inexperienced players. The Cyclones host TCU on Wednesday night as they still have four games left in the regular season before the Big 12 tournament begins.

Notre Dame remaining cautious as Bonzie Colson returns to practice

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Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson is getting closer to returning after being out since early January.

The 6-foot-6 Colson has been out with a fracture in his left foot since Jan. 2 as the Irish have struggled to a below-.500 mark in the ACC. With the Irish likely out of the NCAA tournament picture at this point in the season, head coach Mike Brey told reporters, including Tim Prister of 247 Sports, that he would exercise caution with Colson returning to practice for Notre Dame this week. Colson is slightly ahead of the eight-week projection for his return so far, but he also has a pro future to account for after this season while the Irish don’t have a bright NCAA tournament future.

Colson was hoping to make his season debut on Saturday against Wake Forest but Brey isn’t optimistic about that debut.

“I won’t trust his judgment,” Brey said of Colson, “I’m not going to trust his judgment at all.

“He would have to really show something Thursday and Friday. I’ve got an open mind. Show me. I’ve got an open mind. But I just don’t know if that would be smart.”

Brey is hoping to gradually ease Colson back into the Notre Dame rotation so that he can earn some minutes to close out his senior season. Colson dressed for the Irish’s game against Miami on Monday night and he’s been working hard with Notre Dame’s strength and conditioning coaches.

“It would be energizing for us if Bonzie is back for at least half a practice Thursday,” Brey said. “That’s what we’re going to try. That would probably be energizing for everybody, especially for the seniors, to see him back in practice.

“But I don’t think he’s going to be ready to play (vs. Wake Forest) after two semi-days of practice. Pittsburgh’s realistic, depending upon how he reacts. That’s a positive. We need him back.”

It’s nice to see Brey exercise caution with this situation since Colson has the NBA Draft Combine to prepare for on May 16. Obviously, things haven’t gone as planned for the Irish this season, but they’ve battled a lot of injuries up and down the roster besides for Colson.

Colson does have some incentive to return as well as he’s looking to close out his college career in the best way possible while also showing pro teams that he’s healthy and active following the broken foot.