Man of Steele
When the pressure is on, Alabama's Ronald Steele shows what he's made of.
By Lorie Johnson
Far away from the adoring fans and the harassing media, the smooth-talking agents and the lure of the NBA, Alabama point guard Ronald Steele withdraws to quiet places to pray.
School: University of Alabama
Major: Secondary Education
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
2005-06 Honors: Honorable Mention All-America, First Team All-SEC
A preseason All-American, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Steele has high expectations for his junior year with the Tide. He dreams of an SEC title for his team and All-America honors for himself. He dreams of next season, too. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he left ‘Bama early for the NBA. He’s already projected by some as a first-round draft pick.
But his dreams, talent and success have been accompanied by great pressure; with each passing day, that pressure mounts. Agents call. Fans clamor. The media hounds him. School work demands time and energy. The pressure to perform on the court and meet everyone’s high expectations — including his own — grows daily.
So every day, Steele does what he’s done for years — he digs deep into the Word and spends time alone with the Lord.
“He keeps me sane,” Steele says. “I don’t know how I would survive without being in prayer every single day. Since I’ve been in college it gets so hectic playing basketball and going to class and everything. You have to make time for God just like you make time for anything else. And when you do, He shows you things you need to work on and how to handle certain situations.”
Quiet and gentle off the court but intensely competitive on it, Steele is one of the most popular sports figures in the state of Alabama. He was one of the nation’s top basketball recruits out of Birmingham’s John Carroll High School in 2004 and likely would have been so in football, too, if he had not announced his junior year that he would sign with the Tide to play basketball.
At John Carroll, Steele became the first junior in state history to win the coveted Mr. Basketball title after averaging 19 points, 7.6 assists and 4.1 steals per game that season. He earned it again as a senior, becoming the first player to earn the title twice. He led the Cavaliers on a 36-0 undefeated streak that included the team winning the State 6A title in 2003. He also was an All-State football player.
“I’m a better person for having known and coached Ronald Steele,” says Marty Smith, John Carroll High School head basketball coach and the school’s FCA Huddle Coach. “He taught me how to deal with the pressure and the fame — how not to get too high or too low, but to focus on the task at hand.”
Smith says Steele is so humble that even fans from opposing teams find it hard not to like him.
| "I was under pressure in high school, but it was nothing compared to this. But I give all of it to God and let Him deal with it."|
“I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about Ron Steele,” he says. “He is so humble; people just gravitate toward him.”
Linda Steele, Ronald’s mother, says her son always seemed to have a heart bent toward the Lord. When he was 5, he already had memorized all the books of the Bible. In kindergarten, he asked his parents if he could be baptized.
“He was always so interested in things that were related to religion, even in the preschool years,” Linda says. “He always had an interest to know more. He was inquisitive of things related to the Bible beyond what his peers were asking.”
Steele attended public schools until his ninth grade year when he transferred to John Carroll Catholic High School. Raised Baptist, he immediately thrived in the Christian atmosphere and helped start the FCA Huddle there.
“Going to John Carroll was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me,” he says. “I grew a lot in the Lord from my sophomore through my junior year. That was when I realized God had given me great talent to play basketball and to use it to point people to Him.”
Steele credits a nun at the school, Sister Mary Bridges, for inspiring him to pursue Christ wholeheartedly his ninth grade year. “She had given her life completely to the Lord, and she was the happiest person I had ever met,” he says. “She made me want to live completely for the Lord. I wasn’t really sold-out until then.”
When Steele arrived at Alabama, his mom’s alma mater, the relationship with Christ he developed at John Carroll helped him survive his first year away from home when his faith was tested like never before.
“When I first got to college, not only did I have to adjust to basketball and trying to make my mark as a basketball player, but being on my own for the first time, not having my parents around all the time — it was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” he says.
“In college you have to be really strong in your faith, because there are so many things you were sheltered from in high school that you can be a part of in college. I kind of got away from going to church every Sunday and being the person I needed to be. But what I finally understood was that God never leaves you, no matter how you feel. I think God put me through that to mature me and to get me ready for now. If I hadn’t gone through that, I don’t think I would be able to handle all the pressure and expectations that I’m faced with now.”
Known for his hard work, Steele is often found on the court before sunrise, getting in extra practice. His work ethic has paid off. Last season, he finished with All-SEC and honorable mention All-America honors after averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game.
Steele (r) with fellow FCA leadership team member Kyle Sellers (middle) and FCA's Gary Cramer
Alabama FCA director Gary Cramer says Steele, who is a member of the Tide’s FCA leadership team, influences others as much by his walk as by his talk.
“You won’t find anyone as gifted as Ron who’s as humble as Ron,” Cramer says. “He just lives out his faith so that people will know who his God is. He’s the most unassuming young man I’ve ever met.
“He was at a Michael Jordan camp this summer serving as a counselor, and he sent me a text message saying, ‘Coach, I just want to be more committed in my faith and to living for Christ. What does my next step need to be?’ He’s very serious about growing in Christ.”
Cramer says Steele was one of the first students to sign a pledge at John Carroll promising abstinence until marriage and still encourages others by his virtuous stand. Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried says he has no doubt Steele will fulfill that commitment.
“When he makes his mind up to do something — which he did that in high school — he’s going to stick with it,” he says. “When he gives his word, it’s as good as gold. He’s one of the most pure people I’ve been around. I don’t think there is anything false about him or his character. He’s got an eagerness to be unselfish.”
That eagerness helps him seek Christ first.
“Right now I have so much stuff thrown at me that I haven’t dealt with before, like agents and NBA talk and All-American stuff,” Steele says. “I was under pressure in high school, but it was nothing compared to this. But I give all of it to God and let Him deal with it. I’ve been introduced to a lot of different people between agents and guys who are trying to be this or that, and I just pray that God will show me something either good or bad about them. It’s amazing how many things God has shown me when I just ask Him to. I just pray about everything and let God lead the way.”
Photos courtesy of the Univ. of Alabama