MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Richard Hendrix will decide the future of Alabama basketball.
That sentence, I admit, is hyperbole to some degree. But it's not hyperbole to the extent you might think because it's possible the guy I watched work out for the Grizzlies on Wednesday will have a bigger impact on a program as a whole than any on-the-fence NBA Draft hopeful still testing the process.
|A lot is hanging on the decision of Alabama star Richard Hendrix. (Getty Images)|
Hendrix's decision could change Alabama forever.
It's no secret Crimson Tide fans have grown impatient with Mark Gottfried. He has missed the NCAA tournament each of the past two years, and folks in Alabama don't care that both seasons featured Gottfried trying to navigate the SEC without a healthy starting point guard. The details don't matter.
Alabama is in the same division (SEC West) where a school (LSU) just fired a coach (John Brady) less than two years removed from a Final Four. So Gottfried's stretch of five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances -- including an Elite Eight in 2004 -- before Ron Steele's body started breaking down seems like ancient history these days, and a bad season this season will likely have the 44-year-old Alabama graduate replaced.
This much, Gottfried knows.
He's on the proverbial hot seat, fair or not. And so it was with that opinion that I stood in the Grizzlies' practice facility Wednesday morning and watched Hendrix go through drill after drill against Jiri Hubalek and David Padgett, and I couldn't help but wonder whether he fully understands the stakes.
If Hendrix returns to Alabama -- along with Steele, who seems likely to withdraw from the draft any day -- the Crimson Tide will be the smart pick to win the SEC West and as long as they don't underachieve they should make the NCAA tournament, at least.
If Hendrix remains in the draft, Alabama will be without its best player -- who averaged 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds as a junior -- and a veteran leader, and who knows how the season will unfold then?
In other words, a lot is riding on Hendrix's decision.