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University of Alabama Men's Basketball

C. J. Schexnayder, Dallas, Texas
The University of Alabama (UA) men's basketball program is nationally renowned and has been one of the most successful in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) since its founding in 1913. The Crimson Tide team has been invited to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) 20 times and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament 20 times, advancing to the regional semifinals (Sweet 16) on six occasions and reaching the regional finals (Elite Eight) in 2004. Their home court is the Coleman Coliseum on the UA campus in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County.
Many UA players have gone onto careers in professional basketball in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and other leagues. Robert Horry is the most renowned former Alabama player. He was twice named to the All-SEC team and had a 15-year career in the NBA that included seven championship teams. Latrell Sprewell played 12 years in the NBA was a four-time All-Star. Other Crimson Tide players who went on to become NBA All-Stars include Antonio McDyess, Gerald Wallace, and Maurice "Mo" Williams.
In 1906, an attempt was made to organize a varsity basketball team at UA, but it failed because the administration opposed students traveling for contests. Alabama basketball formally began on January 17, 1913, under Dorset Vandeventer Graves, and the inaugural varsity team was beaten 22-20 by Bessemer Athletic Club at the Bessemer Y.M.C.A. in sudden-death overtime. Less than a month later, the squad faced Bessemer again in the first UA "home" game at the Tuscaloosa Y.M.C.A. Alabama was defeated again, 26-20. The UA team travelled to Starkville, Mississippi, shortly after and lost a pair of games to future conference rival Mississippi A&M (present-day Mississippi State University). After that, Alabama earned seven straight wins to finish the inaugural campaign 7-4. Graves led the basketball program for four more years, but his teams did not repeat that first-year success.
Griff Harsh took over in 1915 and earned a 13-4 record; it would be his best season. Also that year, the basketball team moved onto campus, playing home games in an open area of Clark Hall, a multi-purpose building. The program relocated again later that year with the completion of Little Hall, which included the school's first stand-alone gymnasium. Charles Bernier was hired as UA athletic director in 1920 and as coach of the basketball program. In his first season, Alabama won 12 games and competed in the first Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) Tournament in Atlanta. In 1923, Alabama garnered the program's first 20-win season. Bernier's assistant, Hank Crisp, coached the UA basketball team from 1923 through 1942 and again in 1945, finishing with a career record of 226-129. He would also become a fixture as an offensive line coach for the football team and serve two stints as athletic director. In the mid-1920s, as the football program prospered, the fortunes of the basketball team waned because many of the basketball players also played football.
With James "Lindy" Hood of Collinsville at center, the basketball team posted a 19-6 record in 1928-29 and then went undefeated the next season. It is so far the only team in Alabama basketball history to accomplish that feat. Hood became UA's first basketball All-American in 1930 and also played on Alabama's 1931 Rose Bowl football team. The basketball team won the 1930 Southern Conference Tournament championship, another program first. In 1939, Alabama completed the multi-purpose Foster Auditorium facility. It was built using labor and funding from the federal Works Progress Administration and would be the home for UA basketball for the next three decades. Alabama won its second conference tournament championship in 1934. Crisp stepped down as basketball head coach in 1942 to coach military teams for the war effort. Paul Burnam coached the team in 1943; there was no team in 1944 because of World War II. Malcolm Lanley headed a restored team in 1945, and Crisp returned to lead the team for a single season in 1946. Alabama then hired Floyd Burdett, who led the Crimson Tide for six seasons and earned an 81-59 record and two second-place SEC finishes.
The 1950s marked unprecedented success for the Alabama program with the emergence of the team referred to as "Rocket 8," in reference to a popular model of Oldsmobile at the time. Former University of Notre Dame player and assistant Johnny Dee took over the program in 1952, bringing with him five players he recruited from the Midwest. In four seasons, the team tallied a 68-25 record. In 1955-56, it won 21 games, claimed the SEC championship, and finished fifth in the final Associated Press (AP) poll. Additionally, its 101-77 victory over Kentucky on February 27, 1956, marked the first time any team beat an Adolph Rupp-coached squad by scoring 100 points. Two of the group, Jerry Harper and George Linn, were voted All-Americans. Harper was Alabama's first two-time All-American and was voted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Linn pulled off the most famous shot in the history of UA basketball. On January 4, 1955, against the University of North Carolina at Foster Auditorium, Linn made a full-court shot at the end of the first half (Alabama would go on to win the game 77-55). The 84-foot, 11-inch basket remains the longest in UA history and was the longest made in a sanctioned NCAA basketball game at that time. Into the 1960s, Alabama basketball fortunes declined. The team mustered a collective 142-153 record under coaches Eugene Lambert (1956-60) and Hayden Riley (1960-68). Two players, however, were voted All-Americans from these years: Jack Kubiszyn in 1958 and Bob Andrews in 1965.
Wendell Hudson Receives UA Award
Hoping to revitalize the program, athletic director Paul W. "Bear" Bryant hired Charles M. Newton away from Transylvania College in Kentucky in 1968. As Alabama loosened racial restrictions and admitted black students, Newton began to recruit black players. In 1969, Wendell Hudson, a center for Parker High School in Birmingham, Jefferson County, signed with UA to become the school's first black scholarship athlete. Newton continued to recruit black players from Alabama and would start its first all-black team on December 28, 1973, in a game against Louisville in Kentucky. Also that year, the basketball team relocated to the recently completed Memorial Coliseum. (In 1988, its name was changed to Coleman Coliseum in honor of former athletics administrator Jefferson Jackson Coleman.) Four players Newton signed became All-Americans, including several who achieved the feat multiple years: Hudson in 1973 and Alabamians Leon Douglas (Leighton) in 1973, 1975, and 1976; Theodore R. Dunn (Birmingham) in 1974 and 1975; and Reggie King (Birmingham) in 1976, 1978, and 1979. King was named the SEC player of the year in 1978 and 1979 and remains Alabama's all-time scoring leader with 2,168 career points. In 12 seasons under Newton, the Crimson Tide earned a 211-123 record, claimed SEC championships in 1974, 1975, and 1976, and appeared in four NIT tournaments and two NCAA tournaments, advancing as far as the regional final in 1976, losing to eventual champion Indiana University. Newton was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1975 and 1976.
Robert Horry at USO Event
In 1980, Newton stepped down as head coach to become the SEC assistant commissioner. He was replaced by longtime assistant Winfrey "Wimp" Sanderson, a native of Florence who joined the UA coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 1960. In 12 seasons as head coach, Sanderson tallied a 267-119 record and has so far been the winningest coach in program history. Sanderson, known for his plaid blazers, led UA to five SEC tournament championships, 10 NCAA Tournament berths, and one NIT tournament. The 1987 squad rolled up a program-best 28 wins. Alabama's 1987 NCAA tournament appearance and wins were later vacated owing to a rules violation regarding an agent. Sanderson was named the SEC Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1989. Some of the standout athletes under Sanderson were Derrick McKey, an All-American and SEC Player of the Year in 1987, Horry, Sprewell, James Robinson, Jim Farmer, and Alphonso "Buck" Johnson. Sanderson resigned in 1992 after he was accused of sexual discrimination, a lawsuit that was later settled out of court. Former UA assistant coach David Hobbs replaced Sanderson and led the Crimson Tide to a 110-76 record and two NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons.
Former UA player Mark Gottfried was hired as head coach in 1998. He led Alabama to a 216-138 record, including a school record five straight NCAA tournament appearances. The 2001-2002 team finished first in the SEC, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, and finished the season ranked eighth in the country. The following season, the team was ranked as high as number one in the AP poll for the first time and earned another berth in the NCAA tournament; Gottfried was named the SEC Coach of the Year and Erwin Dudley was named the SEC Player of the Year. The 2003-2004 team advanced to the NCAA Tournament regional final (Elite Eight), where it was defeated by eventual champion University of Connecticut. Among the key players under Gottfried were "Mo" Williams, who was named the 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year, and Alabama natives Gerald Wallace (Sylacauga), Erwin Dudley (Uniontown), Kennedy Winston (Prichard), Ronald Steele (Birmingham), and Richard Hendrix (Athens). The team missed the NCAA tournament in 2006 and 2007 and after a 12-7 start in 2008, Gottfried was fired. Assistant coach John Brannen finished the season 18-14 as interim head coach.
In 2009, Alabama tapped Anthony Grant of Virginia Commonwealth University as its first black head basketball coach. In six seasons, Grant led the team to a 118-86 record, five NIT tournament appearances, and one NCAA Tournament berth, in 2012. Key players during his tenure included JaMychal Green (Montgomery), Trevor Releford, and Tony Mitchell. On April 6, 2016, Alabama announced the hiring of Avery Johnson, who played for the 1999 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and was head coach of the Dallas Mavericks from 2004-2008, where he was named the 2006 NBA Coach of the Year. In his first season, UA finished with an 18-15 record and earned a berth in the NIT tournament. The Tide rolled to a 20-16 record in 2017-18 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Colin Sexton was named the SEC Freshman of the Year for his performance that season.
Published:  November 13, 2018   |   Last updated:  November 13, 2018