Well, that was something, wasn’t it?
Nate Oats inaugural season in Tuscaloosa had it all: preseason hype, devastating injuries, an awful start, a mid-season rally, and another classic Tide Hoops’ February collapse. Along the way there was an exciting, new brand of offense, some hideous performances on defense, big-time wins, ugly losses, and, finally, a worldwide pandemic that abruptly ended March Madness before it could even start. We got to see guys like John Petty take huge steps towards a potential pro career, new faces like Jaden Shackelford emerge to fill-in the footsteps of injured teammates, and some same-ole, same-ole from a few others.
In other words, it was exactly what you would expect from a team in the injury-plagued first year of a major transition (well, besides the society-halting virus that, coincidentally, spared Alabama from playing in yet another NIT). The biggest takeaway from this season is that Oats now knows exactly what he is dealing with; playing at a football-first school in a major conference certainly isn’t the same as taking up residence in Buffalo, New York. Nearly as important though, is that the guys who return next season also know what to expect from the straight-shooting Yankee from Wisconsin.
There’s a lot that could be unpacked from this wild ride of a season. But, ultimately, when people look back on this year, hopefully the only takeaway will be that it was the bumpy first ride that preceded the decade of success that brought Alabama basketball back to its rightful place at the top of the SEC.
That’s what I really want to focus on.
What’s Next for Tide Hoops?
To me, there’s no sense in spending too much time reflecting on the past. Besides, with the COVID-19 outbreak decimating the postseason this year, the only real rewards to be pulled out of the wreckage are individual honors and regular season conference titles. The sports world is ready for the next chapter to arrive, and that is certainly no exception in college basketball. For Nate Oats, that means transforming his current roster into one that looks like this:
Unfortunately, Oats will likely have to do that without All-SEC guards Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty Jr., as both are likely to go pro and get paid for their talents. Lewis has been mocked anywhere from late-first round to mid-second round in this year’s NBA Draft; and while Petty’s prospects aren’t nearly as solid, he has a daughter that he needs to provide for. After giving three years to the University, I fully expect him to play professional ball somewhere in the world in order to take care of his little girl. Oats himself has even said that he would be pleasantly surprised if both returned.
So, assuming both are gone, Alabama is looking at a roster that includes:
- Jahvon Quinerly (Sophomore PG)
- Jaden Shackelford (Sophomore G)
- Herbert Jones (Senior F)
- Alex Reese (Senior F)
- James Rojas (Junior F)
- Jaylen Forbes (Sophomore G)
- Juwan Gary (Freshman F)
- Javian Davis (Sophomore F)
- Galin Smith (Senior F)
That leaves four scholarships available if Lewis and Petty don’t return, as James “Beetle” Bolden has exhausted his eligibility and freshmen post Raymond Hawkins announced that he will transfer. One of those scholarships will be going to four-star freshman, Keon Ambrose-Hylton. The 6’8 post is an athletic big with a high motor and a strong ability to finish around the rim, something Alabama really lacked in 2020. He may have company joining him in the Tide’s 2020 class as soon as today, as five-star combo guard Josh Primo (also of Ambrose-Hylton’s native home of Toronto, Canada) is set to decide between Alabama and Tide Hoops’ bitter rival, Creighton, at 11:00 PM CST.
The addition of those two freshmen, along with the return of Rojas and Gary, who both missed all of last season with ACL injuries suffered during the summer, and the eligibility of Quinerly, would give Alabama a massive boost in talent to the roster. Oats, who we all know isn’t one to beat around the bush, has raved about Quinerly, the former five-star and McDonald’s All-American who had to sit out a year after transferring from Villanova
because the NCAA is a joke of an organization. Rojas is exactly who Oats is looking for in a big man. The 6’8 post can handle the ball and knock down shots from the perimeter, making him a dangerous triple-threat on the offensive end. He was considered one of the top JUCO transfers in the country last season. Gary was another four-star with size (6’5) and talent.
But Oats won’t be content with just those five new additions. With two more scholarships to spare (and potentially more, as Oats has hinted at having discussions with certain players about their fit in the program moving forward), the head man of the Crimson Tide has been hitting the transfer portal hard for experienced players that match his style. He’s looking for more big guards who can score from all over the court, bigs who can stretch the floor and play with a high motor on both ends, and, more specifically, a second ball-handler who can relieve Quinerly when needed at the point. The coronovirus epidemic has certainly made it difficult on Oats to reshape the roster, as he hasn’t been able to get out and see guys face-to-face, but that won’t stop a tireless worker like him. Landers Nolley (of Virginia Tech), Jordan Bruner (Yale), Justin Turner (Bowling Green), and Trey McGowens (Pittsburgh) are some names to really keep an eye on, Turner especially. Oats has been hitting these guys up hard.
2020 has been a crazy year for just about everyone on the planet, and the people and fans that make up Alabama basketball certainly aren’t an exception to that. However, the future is bright in Tuscaloosa with Nate Oats, and there is plenty of reason to be excited about next season, provided that it is played without any more disruptions. With impressive returning players like Herb and Shackelford and a massive influx of talent likely coming in, Tide Hoops has a great chance at being highly competitive in what appears to be a stout SEC in 2021.