Tough. Aggressive. Fast. Blue-collar. Hardworking. High-energy.
These are all words that can be used to describe the style of basketball Alabama plays under head coach Nate Oats.
For the 2021-22 Alabama basketball team, a new word was decided on this summer to become a team standard: hungry.
After last year's success of the regular season and tournament SEC championships, plus a trip to the Sweet 16, the Crimson Tide players know they cannot become complacent.
"It’s actually one of our team standards," said senior guard Keon Ellis. "You know because last year we had a good run, and on our retreat we came up with one of them being 'hungry,' you know not being complacent."
Alabama is preseason No. 14 in the AP Poll and was picked to finish second in the conference in the preseason SEC voting.
Junior point guard Jahvon Quinerly is well aware of the attention that is now being put on the Crimson Tide because of last season's success.
"We’re pretty aware we have a target on our back this year, and that's something that's been fueling us in the gym every day," Quinerly said. "Just to improve, get better every day, keep gelling as a team, keep improving the chemistry, and just overall not getting complacent. That’s why we made ‘hungry’ one of our team standards.”
Last year's triumphs also serve as motivation in another way for junior guard Jaden Shackelford. Not only does it create high expectations, but it also creates doubts of whether or not this Alabama team will be able to recreate those type of results.
"There may be a target on our back whatnot or whatever, however you want to put it," Shackelford said. "But I feel like we’re just coming in with a chip on our shoulder because there's also another side to where people don't think we're going to be as good as we were last year. We’ve just been putting our head down and just working. I feel like we’ve got a group of guys that are bought in right now."
That group of guys includes five returners (Darius Miles, Juwan Gary, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, James Rojas and Alex Tchikou) plus Ellis, Shackelford and Quinerly. The forward Tchikou is technically a returner as well, but did not play at all last season due to an offseason Achilles injury.
The group also includes freshmen Jusaun Holt, JD Davison and Charles Bediako along with transfers Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech) and Noah Gurley (Furman.) However, Burnett suffered a knee injury in September and will be out for the entire season.
Even though there will be a lot of new faces in the mix for Alabama, the old guys don't feel any pressure based on last season's results.
"A wise man once said, ‘ain’t no pressure when you’re having fun,'" Quinerly said. "We love this game, so we’re just looking forward to going out there and having fun. We have big expectations and we know that. But with the time that we’ve been putting in, and the progression we’ve been making, we feel like everything’s going to fall into place as long as we handle business.”
Quinerly was quoting what became an iconic line for Herbert Jones after a video was posted of him saying it in the aftermath of Alabama's SEC tournament win over LSU. (It starts around the :09 mark in the clip below.) Jones is one of the big pieces from last year's championship team that is no longer in Tuscaloosa, and he made his NBA debut Wednesday night.
The Alabama players know that there will be no hiding this year. They will be getting the best shot from every team they play across a very challenging schedule.
"We do know teams are trying to prove themselves against us, so we’ve got to bring it every night out," Ellis said. "Also knowing that this is a new year, we’ve got new challenges ahead of us, so not really any pressure, just got to bring it every night and bring our best."
That's why the hunger is so important. Past success will not determine current results for this Alabama team, who will get things started with a charity exhibition against Louisiana on Sunday before the schedule officially beings with Louisiana Tech on Nov. 9.
"Obviously we’re trying to keep building up so we’re ready for Nov. 9 when we tip off," Shackelford said. "I feel like we’re just going to come in ready to go and not really thinking too much on last year."