April is the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot assured us, and University of Alabama athletics fans would confirm, as far as 2017 goes.
Perhaps May holds a bit more promise.
Things weren’t quite the wasteland that Mr. Eliot describes. Football had a good month. The A-Day game was both entertaining and encouraging, if encouragement was necessary. The NFL Draft came two weeks later, and Alabama received heavy coverage as the sheer volume of selections, including four in the first round, led to new draft records for most selections in the first 55 picks and again in the first 80 selections.
There are Alabama fans for whom only football matters. They feel little angst, as much as they like to generate worry for themselves, or set standards in which an incredibly successful decade isn’t satisfactory. Leaving them aside, some (not all) of the other sports had a very difficult month.
That’s not over for basketball. Avery Johnson and his staff spent a good part of April wondering whether SEC All-Freshman team forward Braxton Key would be a part of the 2017-18 team, and might have to spend the month of May wondering as well. Key was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine but could still try to arrange individual workouts with teams, or explore options overseas. He has until June 12 to decide. Despite Alabama’s deservedly ranked recruiting class, there is no way Johnson will know exactly what cards he holds in his hand for an upcoming season of great expectations until Key makes his call. In the meantime, Key has maintained radio (or at least social media) silence.
Things have been tougher on the diamond, for the men and women. April was the worst month, record-wise, for Alabama baseball and softball combined since the softball program was formed. There’s not a common thread linking both, other than coincidence. Each has its own issues. Alabama is in a transition year under new coach Greg Goff and the adjustment seems to have been rocky at times. The best moment of the season, though, came on Saturday as Alabama swept a doubleheader at Auburn. That’s a real credit to the players who have continued to complete despite the disappointments of the year.
Patrick Murphy, one of the best coaches in the college game, heads the softball program. However, offense has been a yearlong problem and since second baseman Demi Turner suffered a broken orbital bone in a fluke play at Missouri (she was hit in the face by a teammate’s throw), that hitting drought has turned into an arid Sahara of scoring.
The weekend games against Auburn at home were supposed to be a chance to break out for the Alabama bats. That didn’t happen. Now, the Crimson Tide’s streak of hosting NCAA Regionals (and usually super-regionals as well) seems over, not officially but for practical purposes. That will mean an uphill road struggle and a slim chance at making it to Oklahoma City, even with WCWS-quality pitching.
A bad month, though, is just a bad month. Also, it would be wrong to overlook the dominant spring of the women’s golf team, an excellent season in progress for the track and field program, and gymnastics keeping its string of Super Six appearances alive.
Still, May may never have been more welcome at Alabama — if only as a break from April.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.