Could Alabama Football Players Help In Basketball?

Alabama football fans, who outnumber Alabama basketball fans by a significant margin, have been known to speculate about athletes on the hardwood who could be utilized in football.

Reggie King would be among the first identified as an Alabama basketball player “who would make a great tight end.” 

But CBS Sports has turned it around, asking which college football players could shine on the hardwood.

Joe Namath is legendary as a quarterback, but he was also considered among the best athletes in any sport in his time in Tuscaloosa, 1962-64. Former Alabama trainer Jim Goostree said that Namath could stand flat-footed and explode up to dunk a basketball…something that none of the scholarship basketball players in the mid-1960s could do.

(When I interviewed Namath for the book, “What It Means To Be Crimson Tide,” he told me he didn’t want to go to college, that he wanted to turn pro in baseball out of high school. Ken Stabler had the same opportunity.)

In the 1970s, former Tide basketball player Charles Cleveland of Bibb County High School was recruited in football and basketball at Alabama, eventually choosing basketball and also having a cup of coffee with the Bama baseball team.

Over the years there have been many Tide football players who had success with the baseball team, notably Bama quarterback/third baseman Butch Hobson who went on to a playing and managing career with the Boston Red Sox.

I remember the first time I saw Wayne Davis in competition, and Alabama’s all-time leading tackler wasn’t playing linebacker. He was playing in the state basketball tournament for Gordo High School, and it was obvious that this was a big, strong, athletic man, and I expected him to be a very good football player.

For many years the best high school athletes played at least two sports, sometimes more. Now that’s not so much. Those with a future as college athletes tend to concentrate on one sport. Still, there are some multisport players.

In our story last week on Crimson Tide safety Jordan Battle, we mentioned that he played not only football but also basketball at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale.

Newcomer this spring to the Bama football team is defensive back Ga’Quincy McKinstry from Pinson Valley in Birmingham. He also worked out with Bama’s basketball team when time allowed earlier this year. He was offered scholarships by both Tide Football Coach Nick Saban and Bama Basketball Coach Nate Oats.

Alabama running back commit Emmanuel Henderson of Geneva County High in Hartford was one of those who had been offered both football and basketball scholarships, at Alabama and also at Auburn and perhaps elsewhere.

In a conversation I had in the 1970s with Alabama Football Coach Paul Bryant regarding bowl games, he mentioned that when the Tide team he played on in the 29-13 win over Stanford in the 1935 Rose Bowl made the return trip to Tuscaloosa, it stopped in New Orleans to allow some players to join the basketball team. I wondered if he might have been among them – at his size, regardless of any basketball skills, he would have been a force. Thanks to Ken Gaddy of the Bryant Museum I learned that Bryant was not; the players were Jim Whatley, Jimmy Angelich, Jimmy Walker, Clarence Rhordanz, Red Kellar, and Ben McLeod.

(Interestingly, when an Alabama football player suffered a serious ankle injury playing basketball, Bryant added “no playing basketball” to the “no riding motorcycles” list of forbidden activities for footballers.)

From time-to-time, there have been Tide athletes who planned to play both football and basketball, but it rarely works out. For one thing, the seasons overlap and a football player doesn’t get any of the preseason basketball work. I remember in the 1970s when running back Tony Nathan, who had also been an outstanding basketball player at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, went out for the Bama freshman basketball team. He lasted only a few days in basketball.

Many may not be aware of freshman teams. They existed when freshmen were not eligible for varsity play. In the early 1970s, John Bostick handled Bama’s freshman basketball team. One of the great achievements was a team that consisted of a couple of scholarship freshmen, a walk-on or two, and the rest made up of freshmen football players…and the team being competitive. Bama defensive end Ronnie Joe Barnes made life miserable for opposing basketball big men.

The infatuation of many football fans with power forwards who could be tight ends can cut the other way.

I’m thinking Bama tight end Jahleel Billingsley. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he might be considered a little short for today’s game, where guards are as tall or taller. But as Nick Saban has explained in signing tight ends, they are usually big and athletic.

Billingsley did play high school basketball at Phillips Academy in Chicago. As for genes, his second cousin, Ledaryl Billingsley, played basketball at Tulane and was second-team All-Conference USA.

I don’t know if soph linebacker Will Anderson played high school basketball at Dutchtown in Hampton, Ga., but I could see the 6-4, 235-pounder as a slasher on the court.

It wouldn’t surprise me if a pretty good basketball team couldn’t be made up of Alabama football athletes. Pretty good. Nothing like what Nate Oats has going on in Coleman Coliseum.

What Tide football players would you choose for your basketball team?