These days, sometimes Steele’s life is about “SpongeBob SquarePants,” the children’s television cartoon.
The former Alabama basketball player has accepted a job as a community outreach manager for Sarrell Dental, an Anniston-based non-profit organization that benefits economically disadvantaged children. And for a few moments Wednesday afternoon, he spent time at Sarrell Dental’s Anniston office, chatting up one of the dental patients, 7-year-old Kiyreanna Abernathy. The two had a deep discussion about SpongeBob and their favorite episodes.
“Yes, I like SpongBob,” Steele, 23, said later with a big laugh. “I really do watch SpongBob.”
Sarrell Dental chief executive officer Jeffrey Parker said Steele will live in his hometown of Birmingham and work throughout the state, helping with children’s programs. And moments like Steele had with Abernathy is an example of what Parker hopes the former Crimson Tide player can add to Sarrell Dental.
“He’s a great role model, and most of these kids need someone like him,” Parker said.
Steele made his name at Alabama for his leadership qualities. He spent the past five years in the Crimson Tide program, playing in 94 games but starting only 20. He averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game.
But he was considered a team leader and developed into a fan favorite as he overcame concussions, a sports hernia that required surgery, and ankle problems.
That’s what drew Parker’s attention. Parker said when he visited Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant recently, he asked about Steele.
Parker was told Steele was set to serve as a graduate assistant for Grant’s team this coming season. When Parker asked how much money Steele would make, Grant mentioned he would have his tuition paid for. Parker replied, “I might steal him from you.”
Parker gave his card to Grant and asked him to pass it along to Steele, who called the next day. Steele said he liked the opportunity Sarrell Dental was offering. It was good enough to persuade him to leave coaching.
“I was lucky in that I grew up with a great older brother (former Alabama basketball player Ronald Steele) and great parents,” Steele said. “But I knew a lot of kids who didn’t have that. I grew up with them. This job is something that allows me to work with these kids.
“Sometimes it’s just one person who can make an impact on a kid’s life, and I want to be someone who can do that.”
Steele said if there’s anything in his college basketball career that can help him in his new position it’s that he learned how to persevere.
“Obviously, I was 18 and older overcoming the things I had to overcome,” Steele said. “These kids are younger, and the issues are way bigger – things like maybe where their next meal is coming from.
“But I can try to be positive, and that’s something I learned.”
Steele said he has plenty of informal experience with children. Both he and his brother received plenty of attention as basketball star, and Steele said he always appreciated his time with children who approached them.
Also, it taught him early what being a role model means. He learned that he was being watched even when he was off the court.
In addition, he has a four-month-old nephew who gets plenty of Steele’s attention.
Steele will get married Aug. 18 to former Alabama track and field standout Brittany Hines, who is from the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Steele, a John Carroll graduate, said the two knew each other before they got to Alabama.
He hasn’t ruled out returning to basketball in the future as a coach, but for now, he said he is looking forward to his new job.
“I prayed about it,” Steele said. “I felt like this job was calling me. I’m going to commit myself and focus on helping kids.”
And as for his college career – which didn’t result in lots of all-star honors for a player who was a big recruit out of high school – he is satisfied.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Steele said. “It taught me that it’s not what happens but how you react to it. It got me to where I am now.”
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-2370. Follow on Twitter @MarkSportsStar.