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January 30, 2011It doesn't take much imagination to envision the scenario.
It's a typical day on the University of Alabama campus and men's basketball players Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green are at it again, giving no warning of the upcoming move between the forwards. Then, with the blink of an eye the execution is almost effortless, with those watching the last to realize what's about to happen and the resulting dunk thrown down so hard it can't help draw an "oooooohhhhh."
"I already know it's coming, I just tell him to do it," Green said of Mitchell's ability to finish.
But while such maneuvers can be almost commonplace during Crimson Tide games and practice, they're just as likely when the two are hanging out playing video games. Even though Alabama is in the heart of the 2010-11 season and the players are a regular fixture at Coleman Coliseum while the new practice facilities are under construction, the tandem's together just as much during their down time.
No matter how much basketball they play, Mitchell and Green seem to never tire of one another.
"My best friend, brother," Mitchell said of Green. "We've been through a lot. I enjoying playing with him, enjoy hanging around him and stuff, on the court and off."
"Tony is a funny guy, he's very goofy," Green said, unable to hold back a grin. "We're always together, he comes over to the house all the time. We'll be in the room playing games, 'Call of Duty' or '2K11,' or joking or wrestling."
So who's better?
"I am," Green boasts, but one has the feeling someone might have something to say about that.
Although it's not unusual for teammates to become close both on and off the court, this was a friendship years in the making and dates back to before they first laced up their Nikes together on the Capstone despite hailing from different states.
Green led Montgomery's St. Jude to the Class A State Championship in 2006 and 2008, was named both the 2008 "Mr. Basketball" by the Alabama Sportswriters Association and a McDonald's All-American in addition to playing for the USA national under-18 team that went to Argentina and had a coach named Anthony Gant.
Meanwhile, Mitchell, from Swainsboro, Ga., led Central Park Prep to a 25-0 record and a National Christian Education Basketball Tournament title. He was also named the 2007 Georgia Sports Writers Association Class AA player of the year.
"It's really good because when I'm doing wrong he'll tell me and when he's doing (wrong) I'll tell him," Mitchell said. "We just feed off each other.
"Sometimes we listen to each other," he added in a way that only good friends could get away with.
"Especially with the relationship me and Mike have, we hang out all the time, so we basically know each other in and out. When we we're on the court we know what we can do, what we can't do."
Those times when they're clicking, both offensively and defensively, it can be similar to hearing couples finishing each other's sentences. Green to Mitchell and Mitchell to Green, what one may start the other has a good chance to complete, especially when both are around the rim.
"I think it helps our chemistry," Green said of their friendship. "I think we have a great feel for each other when we're on the court. I know what kind of player he is, he likes to slash the goal, get open on the 3-point line, so I think we benefit each other when we're on the court."
That chemistry may be depth-deprived Alabama's greatest hope to making a second-half and postseason run this year, especially with a front-court otherwise lacking in bodies or experience. Outside of senior Chris Hines, voted the 2009-10 season's most improved player, there's just redshirt sophomore Andrew Steele, who was sidelined by knee problems and had arthroscopic procedures on both in December, and two freshmen who have been adjusting to the collegiate game: Jason Carter and Swedish center Carl Engstrom.
Not helping matters was when Green, a junior, was suspended for three games near the end of November for conduct detrimental to the team, including the eye-opening 66-47 loss at ranked Purdue. The sophomore Mitchell stepped up without him and was a point shy of three straight double-doubles, while leading the team in numerous categories including 33.7 minutes and 11 of his 37 rebounds were off the offensive glass, but could have used a lot more help.
However, the stretch did end any doubt that Mitchell (6-foot-6, 210 pounds) appears to be Alabama's best option at the power forward spot, which with the 6-8 Green at center allows the Crimson Tide to play its most athletic lineup and do what it does best, run. While the half-court offense struggled, the transition game thrived.
When he returned, Green called the experience humbling, admitted there had been a lack of leadership on the team, but hoped it would be something he would learn from.
"But now our team needs a leader and I am going to try and become that leader," he said, adding: "It felt good to be out there on the floor. I can't take this for granted, so go out there and have fun."
Of course the best way to do that is by winning, which, like usual, won't be easy when the heart of Southeastern Conference schedule kicks in. It's one of just two conferences to have all of its teams ranked at some point since the 1999-00 season, and 11 of 12 reach the Sweet 16 since 1996.
"It's going to be very tough this year, the SEC has a great (teams)," Green said. "The West is going to be wide open for anyone to win."
But while hoping to challenge for the division title, make some noise in the SEC Tournament and try to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, there will certainly be the day-to-day fun from executing, improving and performing at something along with your best friend, whether it's on the court or enjoying the NBA video game.
When they grab the controllers one would have to figure Green as playing as someone like Kevin Garnett or Amare Stoudemire, while Mitchell seems more the Dwayne Wade type. When he throws down that real dunk in a game, though, one can't help but be reminded of some of the game's great finishers, like Shawn Marion.
"I just like to give a lot of energy when I'm playing," Mitchell said. "Everyone says I finish like an NBA player or do stuff like an NBA player. But it gives us a boost of energy to keep going on because you never know, it might keep happening."