- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Alabama redshirt senior point guard Ronald Steele will withdraw from the NBA draft and return for his final season with the Tide, Alabama coach Mark Gottfried told ESPN.com Saturday night.
Steele, who missed the entire 2007-08 season because of a knee injury, competed in all three games at the NBA pre-draft camp this past week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"Ron made a great a decision," Gottfried said. "He's a smart person, who evaluated this whole process and I believe that he will again be considered one of the premier point guards in the country next year and at the end of next year be a first-round pick.''
Steele played for the first time in five-on-five competition since March. He looked slow at times, especially defensively. His numbers were solid, though, with 12 assists, two turnovers and three steals in three games. But he didn't receive a ton of buzz.
"I did pretty well," Steele said on Friday. "I really don't know what I'm going to do. I'm not sure I'm leaning either way. I'll listen to the coaches and go from there. A couple of teams were interested but I'm not sure who."
That was Friday early afternoon. But by Saturday morning, Steele had made up his mind to return to school.
Getting Steele back is a major coup for Alabama. He was an SEC first-team guard his sophomore season, averaging 15.9 points a game in SEC contests.
His numbers dipped a bit as a junior as he dealt with nagging knee injuries. Steele had surgery on both knees and then a follow-up surgery on his left knee. He practiced from January on, but sparingly. His absence was part of the reason the Tide finished 5-11 in the SEC and just 17-16 overall.
The hope is that Steele will return to his sophomore form and lead the Tide back to the NCAA tournament. Steele will play with his younger brother, Andrew, who signed with Alabama for this season.
Gottfried will now sweat out one more early-entrant. Junior forward Richard Hendrix still has to decide whether to stay in the draft. Hendrix made it clear Friday he wants to continue with the process and go through workouts before the June 16 deadline.
The Tide nearly lost a third starter to the draft when Alonzo Gee declared. But Gee didn't receive an invite to the pre-draft camp so he returned to school last week. The Tide signed power forward JaMychal Green, who could be an impact scorer next to Hendrix, or in place of him, next season.
Steele is the first to withdraw of the 10 underclassmen still eligible to return to school who played at the pre-draft camp at Disney's Milk House.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.