When Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant looks out on the court tonight at Kentucky's Rupp Arena during the Crimson Tide's Southeastern Conference game against the No. 3 Wildcats, he will see too freshmen who could have made a huge difference in his first season in Tuscaloosa wearing Kentucky jerseys.
Six-foot-11, 260-pound man-child DeMarcus Cousins from Mobile's LeFlore High School and guard Eric Bledsoe from Birmingham's Parker High have teamed with fellow freshman John Wall to make Kentucky one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.
Grant really didn't have a chance to recruit either player because he wasn't hired until late March, only two weeks before the late signing period in 2009. By then, Cousins (pictured right), who earlier had orally committed to UAB and later to Memphis, had decided to follow Coach John Calipari to Kentucky when he left Memphis. Bledsoe, who was uncommitted, decided he wanted to play alongside Wall.
Who could blame them? They didn't know Grant and Alabama's basketball program was in serious decline while they were in high school.
Perhaps, if Grant had been at Alabama a year or two earlier, he could have lured Cousins and Bledsoe to Tuscaloosa. At one time, the Tide had a high success rate for landing the top in-state talent, but they have only one blue-chip in-state player on their roster now -- sophomore forward JaMychal Green from Montgomery.
Grant hopes to change that in the future. He said as much during a media conference Monday.
"I think for every player, you go to the right situation for you," Grant said. "Certainly it's important to us to recruit the best student-athletes within our state and our region. Obviously we're going to take a look nationally to make sure we get our program where it needs to be, and that's what we'll do."
He is busy talking with high school coaches in the state in an effort to keep the homegrown talent at home.
"I've been pleased with what I've seen," Grant said. "Certainly I've enjoyed getting to know the coaches and building relationships with various people throughout the state. There are still obviously a lot of people that I still need to touch and get around to building those relationships with, but I've been encouraged."
This year is a down year for blue-chip talent in the state, forcing Grant and Auburn's Jeff Lebo to look beyond the state's borders for players. Lebo signed six out-of-state players in November, while Grant signed two -- four-star point guard Trevor Releford from suburban Kansas City, Mo and four-star shooting guard Charles Hankerson is from Miami.
Among the players on the Tide's radar for spring, according to Scout.com, are power forwards Ricardo Ratliffe of Central Florida Community College and Jon Horford of Grand Ledge, Mich.
But tonight, all Grant can do is look out on the court at Cousins and Bledsoe and wonder what might have been.