Normally in this space we take a long look at some part of the Alabama football team, or try to draw attention to something you may not have noticed about Crimson Tide athletics.
Somehow, it just doesn’t feel right this week.
Whereas we should be celebrating the full return of March Madness, on top of spring break and even St. Patrick’s Day (which was Thursday, on the first full day of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament), quickly approaching is the one-year anniversary of the passing of our friend, Luke Ratliff.
We know that in spirit he’ll be in San Diego today, yet it won’t be the same without seeing him in a plaid suit coat and white hard hat, cheering on his beloved Alabama basketball team against Notre Dame and leading whatever fans who had made the lengthy trip.
Not only am I positive that the “Fluffopotamus” would have been in the front row of the Alabama section, but the BamaCentral crew would have seen him away from the arena as well as he took in the full experience of the trip. He also would have started scouting for places to go in San Francisco should the Crimson Tide return to the Sweet 16 (Note: I say should. He would have said “when”).
Nearly everything that can be said about Luke and the terrible way he died after attending the 2021 NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis has been told and chronicled, but J. Brady McCollough did an outstanding anniversary story for the Los Angeles Times: ‘Alabama, goodnight’: The story of Luke Ratliff, a college hoops superfan gone too soon.
It’s worth the read, especially today. As Nate Oats said last April: “He’s What Embodies College Basketball”
Regardless of whether Alabama’s NCAA Tournament run is long or short this year, we should all take a moment to remember and toast Fluff. Please be grateful for those who are still with us, and appreciate that we get to do things like March Madness again.
More On Fluff
To learn more about Ratliff and his legacy, visit the links below or search his name at the top of the page:
For Superfan Luke Ratliff, Alabama Basketball Just Means More
All Things Bama Podcast: Talking Crimson Tide Hoops with Superfan Luke Ratliff
All Things Bama Podcast: Crimson Tide Hoops Superfan Luke Ratliff Re-Joins the Show
The Best Way to Honor Alabama Superfan Luke Ratliff is to Live Like He Did with Unwavering Positivity and Unmatched Energy
The Alabama football program doesn’t have an unsung hero award for spring football, but the engraver can already start getting one of the plaques ready for Kendall Randolph. In 2011, he was one of the recipients of the Jerry Duncan “I Like to Practice” Award, but this year something like the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence seems more fitting.
Randolph may the ultimate role player for the Crimson Tide. Listed as 6-4, 298 points, he’s sort of a ‘tweener between the offensive line and tight ends, so developed as both.
He’s played in 41 games over the past three years, including 13 starts at tight end. He hasn’t complained about his role(s), hasn’t transferred, and is back this season as a graduate student for his final year of eligibility.
That’s why Nick Saban is going to give him every chance to pin down a starting job on the offensive line this season.
“I really love it when guys like Kendall Randolph show great resiliency, perseverance to continue to want to try to develop as players, make a commitment to the team to do whatever you need to do to help the team be successful,” Saban said. “This is one of the guys that I’m most proud of in terms of where he came from from when he was a young player to where he is now. To graduate, to become a leader, to set a really good example. To have sort of great goals and aspirations for what he wants to accomplish in the future and what his focus is and what his commitment is to it.
“I think this is a great example of what college football should be. He’s created a lot of value for himself here by what he’s developed into, and we’re really, really proud of him. And I’m really happy to have him back.”
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Thomas Itching For a Run
Justin Thomas may have 16 wins on the PGA Tour, but hasn’t finished atop a leaderboard since The Players Championship last year. Consequently, he’s not happy with his current No. 7 world rankings.
But with just three weeks until the first major of the season, he sees signs his game is coming together.
Thomas has three top-10 finishes in his last five starts, which includes his incredible bogey-free round at this year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in winds that approached 40 mph.
“I feel great about my game,” he said at the Valspar Championship, at Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead), in Palm Harbor, Florida. “I feel like it’s very, very close to where I would like it. I feel like I’m close to getting on a good run here. I’m just trying to stay patient and kind of let it happen.
“I played some really, really good golf last week, I was obviously on the wrong end of the draw and I feel like I played really well to battle through that and really fought hard on Sunday and Monday there to kind of hang around and really just got a little unfortunate there with the rain coming down when I was on 17 to throw away a long week of fighting.
“So the result was not even I felt like close to how I played last week, but I’ve shown a lot of great signs of improvement in the areas I’ve been working on and I feel like some wins are coming, so I just need to stay patient, keep letting it happen.”
By bad side of the draw, Thomas was talking about the weather conditions, as he ended up up the course for the worst of it.
The tournament was on by Australian Cameron Smith, while John Rahm is still at No. 1 in the world ranking, ahead of Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. At age 28, Smith is the oldest of the bunch that’s leading the next wave of golf. Rahm is 27, Morikawa is 25 and Hovland 24.
“That’s a good thing for the game of golf,” said Thomas, who himself is only 28. “Having Patrick Cantlay do what he did last year pushes me to become better and having Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland play as good as they are and be in contention in all the majors and win the biggest golf tournaments, I mean, yeah, selfishly and the jealous side of me wants that to be me.”
• Thomas when asked who he likes in March Madness: “I haven’t even looked at a bracket or filled one out. I think my frustration with Alabama hoops has probably been there. But I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know.”
• The USFL announced its roster of assistant coaches, which includes two former Crimson Tide assistants: Larry Kirksey is the running backs coach with the Birmingham Stallions and Neil Callaway is the offensive line coach with the Michigan Panthers. Of course, Mike Riley is the head coach of the New Jersey Generals.
• Former Alabama cornerback Levi Wallace on not being drafted when he met with Steelers media: “People say undrafted, I say eighth round.”
• Could the trade for Mack Wilson give the Patriots two former Alabama players starting at interior linebacker? Probably not. The Patriots don’t have a lot of salary cap room and Ja’Whaun Bentley is coming off a career year. There’s a lot of speculation in New England that Dont’a Hightower won’t be back as he’s 31 and and his numbers are declining.
5 Things That Got Our Attention This Week
SEC Baseball To Utilize TrackMan Technology
The Southeastern Conference announced this week that it will utilize TrackMan technology for conference baseball games during the 2022 season to monitor and evaluate ball-strike performance of SEC umpires.
TrackMan is used by all 30 Major League Baseball teams, top amateur organizations, prominent collegiate summer leagues and is embedded in more than 500 stadiums around the world.
The SEC will use data delivered by TrackMan to monitor each pitch of every game for accuracy by SEC umpires and will use the resulting information to train, evaluate and improve performance.
“The SEC has been a leader in using technology for evaluating and improving officiating in all sports, including the use of centralized or collaborative replay in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and now softball,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a release. “This is another innovative step to improving the accuracy and performance of SEC officiating.”
SEC coaches take aim at March Madness brackets
Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams is still upset that his team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
“After studying all of this nonstop the last two days and looking at it from every vantage point, it defies logic that we are not in the NCAA Tournament,” he said after the Aggies won their NIT opener on Tuesday. “Despite repeated pleas, I have only been given generalities by those above me, not data-specific evidence on why we weren’t invited. Without logical reasoning behind the decision, while knowing I still must explain this to our guys and our families, it has caused me to lose all respect and faith in the system and those that are in it.”
Also from Williams: “The process is obviously flawed and it is apparent that there is way more included that is unseen and unknown in the selection of the 36 at-large teams than what the public is made aware of. Until there is complete transparency and accountability, the system will stay broken and this will continue to happen.”
Meanwhile, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was also not happy after his team landed a No. 3 seeding despite having a better resume than Duke and winning two of three games against Kentucky. The Blue Devils and Wildcats both have No. 2 seedings.
“What I do believe is after Selection Sunday that the chairman or the people of the committee should have to have a national day of press conferences where they can be asked questions by you all,” Barnes said to reporters on Monday. “Not just for three minutes or two minutes. But from people who have really covered college basketball throughout.”
The Next Thing: Transfer Portal Camps
Chris Hummer from 247Sports reported that Deon Glover, a high school coach in Virginia, is aiming to try and help the 1,000-plus players who are in the transfer portal without a school to play for.
He’s holding a pair of camps for players to work out for coaches, the first being April 27 in Virginia Beach. The second has been scheduled for May 18-20 in Nevada.
Glover said one of the biggest issues with the portal is the majority of athletes who are in it either lack film and verified testing data.
The two-day camps will feature the usual measurables like a Pro Day or Combine, including height, weight, 40 time, etc.) and position-specific drills.
Glover hopes to have 300 to 500 athletes at each camp, and all college coaching staffs are invited to attend.
“The whole idea is to help the kids get out,” Glover said. No parent wants to have their kid sitting in the portal. They’re all gifted just sitting around wasting time and their talent.”
LSU fallout just beginning
Former LSU president F. King Alexander told WRKF that members of the LSU Board of Supervisors informed him he needed to part ways with former Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva after Alleva suspended former men’s basketball coach Will Wade three years ago.
Alexander also said that at a dinner with the board members, they wrote on a cocktail napkin the salary for current athletic director Scott Woodward, their choice to succeed Alleva.
“Joe [Alleva] did everything I thought he should have done, by suspending Will Wade, and took appropriate action, then taking the brunt from some high-level members that thought that Will Wade was mistreated,” Alexander said, per The Advocate. “Quite honestly, I thought Joe Alleva was mistreated. I ended up telling Joe that we’re going in a new direction, and it wasn’t because he did anything wrong with Will Wade. … There was an entire ‘free Will Wade’ movement that was under way. Free him from what? From his payment of players?”
Alexander added that he felt let down by the FBI, which would not t
urn over its evidence on Wade.
Ever Wonder Why the SEC is Based in Birmingham?
In an article in the Bold Faced Truth, John Canzano reported that the SEC
“has a sweetheart deal with a booster, only pays $1 a year for its offices in Birmingham.”
In comparison, the Pac-12 has paid $92 million in rent over the last 11 years for its San Francisco base of operations, while the Big Ten has spent less than $15 million for its Chicago-based headquarters over the same time period.
Canzano believes the Pac-12 will soon relocate its headquarters to Las Vegas because its centrally located, it already hosts the conference championships in basketball and football, and the office space is more affordable.
He also quoted commissioner George Kliavkoff, who has ties to the city, as saying: “There’s more than 100 college basketball games in this town. I’ve been fortunate to go to a couple of games that were not part of our tournament over the last couple of days, and it just is becoming the sports capital, and I think people are realizing that.”
As for playoff expansion, he said: “So as far as I’m concerned, the time to publicly talk about the CFP is now over. I think the next piece of work that needs to be done is we need to get in the room and figure out what the expanded playoffs look like. Unless I’m forced to publicly talk about it, the next time I talk about the CFP will be to announce what our new format looks like.”
Bonus: He Paid For What?
Sportico obtained several expense account reports from athletic directors and coaches over the past year, anything from UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin asking to be reimbursed $49 to upgrade a car rental when he makes $4 million a year, to Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs being reimbursed $8,712 for various golf outings with donors in 2021.
Among our favorites is Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari being reimbursed $1,645 for a night at the Ritz Carlton and a $633 room at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Also, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin was reimbursed $1,487 for a pizza truck he hired to come to his home for a VIP party during the weekend the Gators played Alabama.
Did You Notice?
• Was the SI Daily Cover yesterday a foreshadow? ‘Facing Duke Was All Business’: Ten Years After No. 15 Seed Lehigh Slayed a Giant
• Two of these teams have already lost: The 10 Teams Most Likely to Win the 2022 Men’s National Title
• The Best NBA Draft Prospects in the 2022 NCAA Tournament includes a Crimson Tide player.
Christopher Walsh’s notes column “All Things CW” appears every week on BamaCentral.