After facing an uncertain future on May 1st with the news of three Crimson Tide players entering the NBA Draft, Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried was wondering what his 2008-09 team would look like.
Gottfried had already dealt with two players leaving the program in Justin Tubbs and Rico Pickett, who are both transferring to still-unknown schools. News got worse once his potential core for 2008, Richard Hendrix, Ronald Steele, and Alonzo Gee, all declared for the draft.
This wasn't going to be Gottfried's first rodeo with this scenario, having dealt with multiple players in his tenure leaving for the league early, with some results better than others.
However, a month later things are looking a lot better for the Tide.
Gee vowed to return about ten days ago when he did not receive a pre-draft camp invitation. Now, Gottfried is two for two on keeping players in school for another year, as he received news of Ronald Steele returning.
Steele did receive an invitation to the camp and worked out for the NBA scouts. However, he impressed few, if any, teams and as a result, has decided to return for his senior season at the Capstone.
Steele was "testing the waters" for the draft after red-shirting the past season to increase his health after a total of three knee surgeries.
"He made the right decision," said Gottfried of Steele. Many 'Bama fans will agree with this statement and hope Steele returns to his sophomore All-American form.
The one remaining piece to the puzzle is Hendrix, the Tide's leading scorer from last season and almost an assured double-double every game.
The question now is, does Alabama really need Hendrix back next season?
There is no doubt the fans and coaches would like him to return, but how does that shape the season for the Tide?
The return of Steele alone should make Alabama the 2009 SEC West favorites and in a great position to take the conference. Adding Hendrix to the mix will not change that prediction, but imagine Alabama without him next season.
Alabama would have a much more open offense, having the paint unclogged with the absence of Hendrix. This would allow Steele to drive and dish a lot easier to outside shooters such as Gee, Senario Hillman, or new JUCO transfer Anthony Brock.
Hendrix's spot can be replaced by incoming freshman JaMychal Green, a McDonald's All-American, just like Hendrix was coming in to 'Bama.
Green is faster than Hendrix, but he doesn't have the experience that Hendrix has, which is extremely useful in the SEC. Either way, the Tide will have a presence in the middle.
But if Hendrix returns, Alabama gains strong depth in the middle, something it has been lacking for the past few years. Demetrius Jemison, who started opposite Hendrix this past season, would either become a 6th man to Green, or would have a reliable back-up next season, and the front court would remain the same.
A Hendrix return also makes the Tide a more dangerous team in the SEC.
Now the fans and coaches play the waiting game for two weeks to see if Hendrix will return to help the Tide in their 2008-09 campaign.
Even if Gottfried goes two for three, the Tide has already regained the most important piece it needs in order to regain their dominance in the SEC next season.