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8 Alabama With help from a masterly young guard orchestrating at the point, the Tide's rock-steady anchor is ready to go from unknown to unstoppable

It's not often that the reigning SEC player of the year lacks
name recognition, but even the most dedicated hoophead might be
hard-pressed to identify the current titleholder, Alabama
center-forward Erwin Dudley. Although he helped lead the Crimson
Tide to the conference championship and the second round of the
NCAA tournament in 2001-02, Dudley is still about as likely to
be recognized outside Tuscaloosa as Charles Barkley is to get an
invitation to join Augusta National.

But Alabama's opponents have come to know and respect Dudley, a
6'8", 260-pound senior who last year averaged 15.2 points and 8.9
rebounds in quiet, workmanlike fashion. "He's a very
underappreciated player," says Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "He's
the type that coaches notice more than fans because he's not
flashy, he's just solid and smart."

The key to Dudley's no-frills game is his strength in the low
post, using muscle developed working on his family's farm in tiny
Uniontown, Ala. (pop. 3,400). He won't win any slam-dunk
contests, but he's adept at establishing position and finishing
around the basket, as evidenced by his 55.6% field goal shooting
last season. In keeping with his low profile, Dudley didn't spend
the summer playing on a national team or making the rounds of
shoe-company-sponsored camps. He simply went to the gym and
worked on his skills. If he achieved his goal of adding a more
accurate mid-range jumper to his impressive post-up game, he
could be unstoppable.

The Crimson Tide lost last year's second-leading scorer, guard
Rod Grizzard, to the NBA, but with Dudley manning the inside with
senior Kenny Walker, and sophomore point guard Mo Williams, a
budding star, operating in the backcourt with senior shooting
guard Terrance Meade, coach Mark Gottfried has an experienced,
battle-tested team. If the Tide can make it past the tournament's
first weekend, Dudley may finally get the recognition he's
due--not that it matters much to him. "If people don't know who I
am, that's fine with me," he says. "I'm not trying to become
famous." In fact, he wouldn't mind if, come April, most of
America knows him only as the guy who's cutting down the
net. --P.T.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN STEPPING OUT Lord of the boards Dudley (35) is hoping to expand his offensive range.



SF Earnest Shelton 6'3" So. 33.1 3FG%
PF Kenny Walker 6'9" Sr. 5.5 rpg
C Erwin Dudley 6'8" Sr. 15.2 ppg
SG Terrance Meade 6'2" Sr. 8.4 ppg
PG Mo Williams 6'1" So. 4.5 apg

Returning starter

2001-02 RECORD: 27-8 (12-4, 1st in SEC West)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Kent State in 2nd round</box_body><box_body>

Consecutive seasons in which Erwin Dudley has led the SEC
in rebounding. Dudley has averaged 9.4 boards in that span.

An opposing coach's view

The Tide doesn't run deep, but it has strength up the middle

"The best thing they have going for them is Erwin Dudley's
leadership. He's such a warrior. But they don't have a lot of
depth, especially inside, so you want to go at Dudley and try to
get him in foul trouble.... Mo Williams is just a big-time guard.
His Achilles' heel is that he's not a great shooter, but he
pushes all the right buttons on offense.... Terrance Meade is a
good shooter who makes it hard to double down on Dudley....
Freshman forward Kennedy Winston is a great athlete who shoots it
well. He'll have some hurdles to jump as a first-year guy, but
the experienced guys around him will help.... Their biggest
question mark is, Who takes the big shot? Last season it was Rod
Grizzard. It could turn out to be Dudley, but you can neutralize
a guy in the post easier than someone on the wing."