November 5, 2010 8:01:00 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Tierney Jenkins feels this is the year.
This time, it''s not just talk.
In previous seasons, the University of Alabama forward has heard players say the Crimson Tide were going to do this and accomplish that, only to see the claims amount to nothing.
Now a senior, Jenkins is up front about her desire to help change that.
"For once, even though this is my senior year, I really feel like the freshman have come in and made an immediate impact," Jenkins said. "They''re not missing a beat. ... I really feel like we are going to be a really good team."
The addition of one of the nation''s top recruits could make Jenkins'' job a lot easier. As much as talk about Alabama this season could start with Jenkins, who the coaches picked to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference second team, the most curiosity about the team surrounds the addition of freshman Kaneisha Horn, of Birmingham, Ala.
Alabama will have its first chance to showcase Horn and the 2010-11 squad at noon Saturday when it plays Alabama-Huntsville in an exhibition game at Coleman Coliseum.
Horn is the Crimson Tide''s first McDonald''s All-American. She averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists as a senior, and was ranked No. 5 in the 2010 class by ESPN HoopGurlz. She also was named to the Women''s Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Team, was a finalist for the 2010 Naismith Award, was invited to the 2010 USA Basketball Women''s Under-18 National Team Trials, a USA Today All-USA First-Team selection, a Parade Second-Team All-American, and the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama.
Two seasons ago, the Crimson Tide won just one game in the SEC, but last year they won four (12-18 overall).
Hudson pointed out that progress when asked about what he expected from his team this season. Now in his third season as head coach and with one of the nation''s top newcomers on his squad, Hudson feels the Crimson Tide, who were picked eighth in the preseason SEC Coaches Poll, can take an even bigger step forward.
"I don''t think one player is making this recruiting class what it was," Hudson said. "Some of the returning players are playing pretty good and have made progress. I think it is going to be a team effort."
The Crimson Tide also will have Jenkins to rely on. Jenkins led the team in scoring (11.6 points) and rebounding (9.1 per game) last season. She had a SEC-best 11 double-doubles as a junior, became the 22nd member of the Tide''s 1,000-point club, and broke the single-game rebounding record by collecting 27 against Belmont.
Jenkins said Horn has lived up to the hype and will provide an immediate lift that should put Alabama into the middle of the pack in the SEC.
"We all have grown," Jenkins said. "This year, we all stayed (on campus) all summer. Last year, people went home, and this year we all stayed to work out and to do whatever we could to get better."
Jenkins sensed the difference on the team on the first day or practice. She said she had a sigh of relief because she felt like the team finally had assembled all of the pieces to have a successful season.
"I love my team, I love practice, and I am just looking forward to the season," Jenkins said. "Being picked ninth (by the media) is better than being picked 12th, but it is still the bottom half. We are still competitors, so who want to be picked at the bottom of anything."
Hudson shares that optimism. He said he won''t put too much pressure on Horn to carry the team. He feels the Crimson Tide have the ingredients to allow her to grow at her pace and to have greater success at the same time.
"I think she is going to have a really big impact," Hudson said. "She needs to relax and be a freshman college player. By the time we get to the SEC season that might be different."
That might be different for the team, too, which believes it is in position to finish the season higher in the pecking order.
Alabama will kick off its regular season at 5 p.m. Nov. 12 against Tennessee State.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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