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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama basketball is hitting the road for the first time this season when the team travels to Orlando to play in the ESPN Events Invitational. 

Whether they win or lose the first game against Iona, the Crimson Tide will still play three games in four days starting on Thursday. According to head coach Nate Oats, the team is hopeful that forward Juwan Gary will be able to rejoin the rotation this week.

"Juwan’s participated in some stuff in practice, so he's more likely to play Thursday than he was last Friday," Oats said. "So he's still up in the air, but it's looking better, hopefully by Sunday for sure.”

Gary injured his ankle in the South Dakota State game and has not played since, but reports from the doctors were much better than what they initially feared after he landed awkwardly while going up for a block. 

Junior guard Jaden Shackelford said Gary's the epitome of a blue collar player who always plays hard for the Crimson Tide.

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"He does everything we need him to," Shackelford said. "He's been he's been attacking his rehab to get back for this tournament. And, you know, he's slowly progressing. I feel like he's gonna be ready when the time comes, and I feel like you just pick up where you left off."

On Tuesday, Oats said it was a good day of practice overall for the whole team. He's been trying to get the guys prepared this week without overworking them knowing they'll have to play three games in four days. 

It would be a big boost for Alabama depth and skill wise if Gary is able to return. Oats called Gary one of Alabama's better defenders along with Keon Ellis, Charles Bediako and Shackelford. 

Even if Gary is unable to go for one or all three of the games, Oats likes what he's seen out of the freshman Bediako defensively. 

"Whether Juwan is in or out, having Charles to anchor our defense is huge," Oats said."

Alabama will open tournament play on Thanksgiving Day against Iona at 4 p.m. before facing the winner of Belmont/Drake on Saturday.