Trevor Lacey (Getty Images)
Then came an unexpected defection that has muted the optimism.
Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey, Alabama's second-leading scorer and assists leader, announced via a press release from the school Tuesday afternoon that he intends to transfer. Lacey offered only a vague explanation for his surprising decision in the release and neither of his parents were immediately reachable for comment.
"It was a family decision to pursue other opportunities," Lacey said. "This definitely was not an easy decision to make. It's been great at Alabama during my two years. It was tough my freshman year coming off surgery and having to work my way back. I wanted to improve during my sophomore season and I thought I did that."
It's difficult to overstate the impact of Lacey's transfer for Alabama because he was critical to the team's success. The heralded 6-foot-3 shooting guard started every game for the Crimson Tide this past season, averaging 11.3 points and 3.2 assists per game and knocking down 37 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.
What Alabama will miss most about Lacey is his ability to score. The Crimson Tide were ninth in the SEC in points per possession a year ago, a problem that could grow worse by the looks of next season's roster.
Besides leading returning scorer Trevor Releford, Alabama doesn't have many proven threats. Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph are solid perimeter players and Nick Jacobs showed promise inside, but none of those guys have proven they're the dynamic scorers that Lacey was.
Lacey, a Huntsville native, figures to have plenty of suitors. He originally chose Alabama over Kentucky and Kansas, among others, two years ago and likely would have been one of the SEC's top guards next season had he remained at Alabama.
Wherever he goes, it will surely be tough for Alabama fans to watch him play in another jersey.
With Lacey, the Crimson Tide might have emerged as the top challenger to Florida and Kentucky in the SEC next season. Without him, it seems more likely they'll be well behind those two in the SEC pecking order.
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