By Jeff Goodman
Anthony Grant chose accountability over winning -- and possibly even the NCAA tournament. Maybe Alabama's head coach will be rewarded with both.
The Crimson Tide got a huge road win at Arkansas last night, one that put 'Bama at 18-9 overall and 7-6 in the SEC with three winnable regular-season games left.
"Our guys stepped up," Grant told me shortly after the victory.
Grant earned plenty of praise for his decision to suspend arguably his top four players in recent weeks. He has since reinstated Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele -- who combined for 29 points in the win over the Razorbacks. However, Tony Mitchell's season and possibly his career at Alabama is history. Star big man JaMychal Green has practiced with the team the last few days, but Grant was non-committal whether he'll play this weekend in Tuscaloosa against Mississippi State.
"We'll see what tomorrow brings," Grant said.
Grant didn't want to compare the chemistry last night to what it was earlier in the season, but he praised the togetherness and the effort that took place in Fayetteville.
"We were locked in," Grant said. "The chemistry was good."
If Green does return to the court against Mississippi State -- as is anticipated -- this Crimson Tide team could still be dangerous if it gets a spot in the NCAA tournament. This is a team that has won five of its last seven games. But Grant, who brings a no-nonsense, old-school approach of holding kids accountable to the table, said he never worried about getting to the NCAA tourney when making the decision to suspend Green, Mitchell, Releford and Steele.
"Never once did I give it a thought," he said. "I had confidence in the guys we put on the floor. ... This wasn't something that came out of the blue."
While Grant declined to elaborate on the reasons for the suspensions, it was clear it had been brewing -- and he opted to do something about it.
"I'm not a send a message type of guy," Grant said. "If you screw up, you should be held accountable. There are consequences. I wasn't the perfect student-athlete and kids make mistakes. They are kids, but we need to hold them accountable."
As for Alabama's current NCAA tourney chances?
"We're just worried about Mississippi State," he said. "It is what it is. It's an invitation tournament and we've got Mississippi State next. I'm not worried about anything else."
"We're growing as a team," he added. "I think we're improving."
And while Grant's intention wasn't necessarily to send a message, that's exactly what he's done.