When Alabama hired Nate Oats after the end of the 2019 season, there was a range of emotions from deserved, cautious optimism to full, unbridled excitement. The up-and-coming coach out of Buffalo brought with him two things that the Crimson Tide program was sorely lacking: a “no slacking” mentality and an actual effective offense.
However, it wasn’t just all bluster and highlight clips from a smaller school. Oats immediately stepped in and, with almost no time to spare, put together a recruiting class within a month of starting with his new team. That class consisted of three 4-star players in Juwan Gary, Jalen Forbes, and Jaden Shackelford, two 3-stars, a grad transfer, and a former 5-star transfer in Javon Quinnerly.
That class was good for 21st nationally, and Oats then went on to have a solid, promising season despite numerous injuries trying to derail the Tide.
With a full year under his belt to fully scout and recruit the players he wants, Oats has pulled together an even more impressive class. Three more 4-stars (two of which are borderline 5-star prospects), a high 3-star, a top-ten JUCO transfer, and possibly the top grad transfer in the country in Yale’s Jordan Bruner.
Basketball is obviously a bit more volatile than football, but recruiting rankings are still a very powerful predictor for team success. If Oats can continue to recruit at this level, will we see Alabama move from a fringe top-70 team to a top-20 team?
Of course, Alabama’s had plenty of recruiting success in the past that hasn’t turned into the expected results. We all know how much hype came with that 2017 recruiting class under Avery Johnson with Collin Sexton, John Petty, Alex Reese, and Herb Jones. That class was ranked 8th in the nation and had a top-5 prospect in Sexton. Alabama rode that class to an NCAA tournament bid and first-round win, but declined after that.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Alabama as program was just destined to underperform their recruiting, but that actually hasn’t been exactly the case.
In Coach Johnson’s first year, he signed Donta Hall, Dazon Ingram, and Brandon Austin. Hall wound up developing into a nice defender, but ultimately, that class was ranked 73rd. His next year, he only managed to sign two players: Braxton Key and JUCO ArMond Davis. Both transferred after one year. And it was only ranked 50th anyway.
2017 was the aforementioned Sexton class. And then 2018 was Kira Lewis, Diante Wood, and Javian Davis. Lewis by himself was good enough to boost the Tide up to the 24th ranked class, but the other two were middling 3-star prospects, and Wood never even played for the Tide.
So, taking the average of Coach Johnson’s four recruiting classes, Alabama should have been right at a top-40 team. Instead, (excluding year 1) they hovered just inside the top-60 each season. A little underperformance, but not by a whole lot. They just weren’t recruiting all that well to begin with, outside of Sexton.
If Oats keeps up his recruiting pace, I believe it is more than fair for Alabama fans to finally allow themselves to have some optimism, and not just write each upcoming season off as another disappointment.