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More Alabama Basketball Coverage

Hendrix Commits to Alabama

By Raymond McKinnon

BluJnBluz@aol.com

October, 2004
                                                 

 

 

Richard Hendrix Commits to ‘Bama

“Tryin’ to find a perfect man is like tryin’ to find Atlantis,” wails Jamie O’Neill in her latest country smash hit. Mark Gottfried and the Alabama basketball fanbase can relate. For as long as this writer can remember, Crimson Tide recruiting has searched in relative vain the deep blue for a legitimate, dominating, Shaquille O’Neil type big man. That’s not to belittle past Alabama greats. Leon Douglas, Reginald “Mule” King, Derrick McKey, Robert Horry, Antonio McDyess. All legendary names in Tide basketball history. All have led Alabama to different levels of tournament success. All have one thing in common: no wide body, no national title ring. And in all honesty, one cannot ignore link to the traditional lack of depth in the travails of Alabama’s past tournament failures. When you play the big boys, you gotta carry a big stick, deep bench. But one also can’t discount past frustrations in Tide basketball recruiting particularly in-state. UNC, Duke, Indiana and other perennial basketball powers have traditionally cherry picked the top talent, particularly big men, from the state of Alabama. From Pete Chilcutt to Antonio Lang to Mario Austin and most recently Walter Sharpe, just to name a few, Alabama’s frustrations reeling in nationally coveted in-state big men has been well documented. Enter Richard Hendrix.

6’ - 8” 250 lb. PF/C Richard Hendrix hails from Athens, AL where he plays for his father, Venard, at Athens High School and led the Golden Eagles to the state 5A championship averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds and 7 blocked shots in his junior season. The 2004 Parade All-America as-a-junior looks forward to leading his team this year to the ultimate high school award, overall state title. And the icing on the cake is his 3.6 GPA. (for those of you in Opelika, Alabama, that means he’s smart) Knowing his father and mother both teach at Athens HS, his intelligence should shock no one. Knowing his two older sisters attended the University of Alabama should make young Richard’s interest in Alabama no surprise, either.

Considering the tidal wave Mark Gottfried’s been riding since last season’s surprise Elite Eight run, (named to the Wooden Award panel, named as a possible replacement for Jim O’Brien at Ohio State) it shouldn’t come as any great revelation ‘Bama beat out Roy Williams and North Carolina for the Hendrix commitment. Noted columnist, radio talk-show squawk and unabashed FOM (friend of Mark) Paul Finebaum had this to say about the rarified air Gottfried’s enjoying at the moment, “Gottfried walked in the press box before the Alabama - Southern Miss football game and I thought Elvis had entered the building!” Thank you, thank you very much. When asked about the impact of the Hendrix commitment, Finebaum said, “Really, he (Gottfried) owns this state. Gottfried did what good coaches do, he’s made the most of the momentum, they’re being very aggressive and I think you’re going to start to feel a buzz beginning next week when SEC Media Daze in basketball begin that we haven’t felt around here in a long time and I think it’s a legitimate buzz and he’s going to add a lot of pressure to what’s already become a pressurized job. I think it’s great.” Being the media mouthpiece for the Gottfried’s (Former Pitt head football coach and ESPN football color analyst Mike Gottfried hails from Mobile, AL and lead the charge to bring the GMAC bowl to Mobile. Joe Gottfried is athletics director at the University of South Alabama and, of course, Mark is the state university’s head basketball coach. In the minds of some, the Gottfried’s are the Alabama sporting equivalent of the Sopranos. Speaking ill of the family will likely earn you the airwave equivalent of “sleepin’ wid da feeshes” on Paul’s radio show, a hang-up) he should know. Finebaum spearheaded the drive to bring Mark Gottfried to Tuscaloosa and has been the proverbial “bridge over troubled waters” for Tide basketball fans during stormy times for Mark.

While the Hendrix commitment has been hailed by some as the most important event in Alabama basketball history, he certainly could be it’s most important recruit and it must be pointed out that no signature is (on) the bottom line. For many college coaches and recruiters a verbal vow amounts to nothing more than a acknowledged target, especially when speaking in terms of blue-chip talent. Upon receiving the news from Richard on his decision, North Carolina’s Roy Williams is reported to have said he’ll “always be a Richard Hendrix fan.” Translation: you’re still on my sonar, son. And as a Rivals.com 5 star recruit, he should be. It also must be pointed out Gottfried’s past frustrations in juggling multiple potential NBA’ers on the same squad. One must look no further than the Rod Grizzard - Gerald Wallace ‘01 - ‘02 team for an example of the challenge Mark could face in 2005 - 2006. That team could field the trio of Ron Steele at the point, Kennedy Winston at power forward and Hendrix down low. And a deep bench. And only one basketball. But the NBA draft and it’s potential millions could overshadow any hypothetical chemistry problems Gottfried could encounter. While Hendrix is listed at six foot eight inches tall he’s probably closer to 6’ - 7”. It is this writer’s opinion that were he a legitimate 6’ - 10” or better, the lure of the NBA’s millions would preclude any chance of King Richard gracing any college court. Still, the mere presence of professional scouts attests to Hendrix’ ability and man-children vaulting from high school to the big time isn’t like kneeling before Neptune. Just ask any former applicant for the Laker’s head job. From this perch, should Hendrix be a high lottery pick next June, he’s gone, as well he should be. And let’s face it, coming in second for the hardwood services of an in-state bruiser that could push the program over that Final Four hurdle would be an achingly familiar recruiting definition of “Mark’s Madness” for the coaching staff.

Is the Richard Hendrix commitment the most important event in the history of Crimson Tide basketball as some around the program are claiming? It’s a perplexing question. The 1982 team led by Ennis Whatley won the SEC Tournament beating Kentucky at Rupp. Wimp Sanderson went to Pauley in ‘83 and coached the Tide to a huge upset over then #1 ranked UCLA. Three consecutive SEC Tourney titles in ‘89, ‘90, and ‘91 was also one of many incredibly significant milestones for the Alabama basketball program. And one must wonder what effect Gottfried’s Elite Eight appearance is having on the Richard Hendrix Experience. He stated at his press conference he wanted to be a part of “building something” at Alabama. Without a doubt, history will be the final arbiter on this query. Mark Gottfried’s overcome many daunting hurdles in his time at the Capstone as head basketball coach. In the wake of the well-publicized theft of Walter Sharpe by Mississippi State, and the well-documented history of in-state blue-chip poaching, all along the watchtower fans are asking, Mark Gottfried, are you experienced?

 

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