Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rising Tide Will Test UF 'Bama Seeking a Share of Title

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rising Tide Will Test UF 'Bama Seeking a Share of Title

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, Times-Union sports writer

When Alabama hired Mark Gottfried to head its basketball program in March 1998, the former Crimson Tide player made four promises to administrators and fans. He has kept the first three, and he's on the verge of keeping the fourth.

Gottfried promised to bring some of the nation's best high school players to Tuscaloosa, and by the following season he had landed Gerald Wallace, the Naismith national high school player of the year.

Gottfried promised to graduate more players, and every senior on last season's squad graduated by May.

Gottfried promised that Crimson Tide players would make an impact off the court, and a school-record five were named Academic All-SEC last season and participated in community activities, including holiday parties for special needs children.

And finally, Gottfried also promised that the Alabama basketball program again would become an SEC and national power. If the Crimson Tide (22-5, 10-3 SEC) beats visiting Florida (20-5, 9-4) today, he'll have made good on that promise, too, because Alabama will clinch at least a share of the SEC regular-season title with a victory.

"We came here four years ago, and we recruited some players, and we're in the hunt for a championship," Gottfried said. "That means we've come a long way."

It's not as if Alabama's program was in shambles when Gottfried took over -- the Crimson Tide's 15-16 record in 1997-98 was the program's first losing record since 1987-88 -- but it did need a jump-start. Though the Crimson Tide had been to the NCAA Tournament or NIT eight times since 1987-'88, it had not made the postseason in two seasons.

Gottfried delivered a 17-15 record and an NIT appearance in his first season. A 13-16 record in 1999-2000 followed, but the Crimson Tide was 25-11 and reached the NIT title game last season. They were excluded from the NCAA Tournament because of a weak non-conference schedule loaded with home games.

This season Alabama has the SEC's best record and is ranked fifth, the first top-10 ranking since 1987, when the Crimson Tide won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles with Gottfried in the starting lineup. …

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