To call the decision difficult would be an understatement. Athens (Ala.) standout power forward Richard Hendrix had been torn between Alabama and North Carolina as his college destination for months.
The dilemma for Hendrix was whether to stay at home and help the Crimson Tide continue its national resurgence or head to Blue Heaven to suit up for one of the most storied programs in the history of the game. The decision was never easy, but on Tuesday it was finalized.
Hendrix, rated the No. 5 player in the class of 2005 by Rivals.com, found it too difficult to say no to Alabama, committing to his home-state school during a press conference at Athens High School.
"It was a long process with a lot of sleepless nights the last couple of weeks," Hendrix said. "It came down to the opportunity to start new traditions and to go to a Final Four and win a national championship in my home state. That was just too tough to beat."
In Hendrix, Alabama will be getting a powerful interior player who has the ability to change the game at both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder averaged 22 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks per contest as a junior.
Hendrix, who has two sisters who graduated from Alabama, has started every game for Athens since arriving at the school as a freshman. Last season, he led the Golden Eagles to a 33-3 record and a runner-up finish in the Alabama 5A state tournament. Athens is 80-20 in three years with Hendrix, who already ranks as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,078 points) and rebounder (1,289 rebounds).
“To me, Richard Hendrix is the top low-post player in this class,” said Rivals.com national basketball recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons. “His future in college or in the NBA will be as a four-man. With the absence of true post players in the game today, especially on the high school level, he stands out as the best in his class.”
While he was excited to make the local Alabama fans happy with his decision, Hendrix admitted that it was tough saying no to all that North Carolina had to offer, especially the program’s great tradition. It was also tough to say no to UNC coach Roy Williams, with whom Hendrix had developed a good relationship.
"It was very hard to turn down (North Carolina) and the great tradition," said Hendrix, whose father, Venard, is the head basketball coach at Athens. "But the more I thought about it, it would be so much more fulfilling to start a new tradition and do something for Alabama."
While one tough decision is behind him, Hendrix might have another tough choice to make next spring. With his size and athleticism, it’s possible, depending on his senior season and postseason all-star game performances, that he could be a possible first-round pick in next June’s NBA draft.
"My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA, so if someone could assure me that I was going to be a lottery pick, I would have to look into it and give it serious consideration," Hendrix said. "Anybody who plays competitive sports wants to compete at the highest level. But right now, I'm all about Athens High School and the University of Alabama."
Hendrix becomes the fourth player to commit to Alabama for the class of 2005. He joins Yamene Coleman, Alonzo Gee and Ray George to form one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
Meanwhile, North Carolina, which also is putting together an outstanding recruiting class, still has one scholarship available and likely will focus its attention on 6-11 center Andrew Bynum of Metuchen, N.J.