Changes are Looming for Nate Oats and Alabama Basketball in 2020-2021
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — You could hear it in his voice.
The frustration and disappointment of a season cut too short, or maybe it was the weariness that came with a challenging first year at a new job where injuries depleted the roster.
University of Alabama men's basketball coach Nate Oats held a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday morning to discuss the cancellation of postseason competition for winter sports due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and where his program goes moving forward.
"This is obviously different times than what any of us have gone through in our lifetime," Oats said. "There is not really a playbook for how to handle it. Our guys are home and we are here."
The part that stings the most was the timing of it all. Two back-to-back losses to end the season against Vanderbilt and Missouri certainly gave Oats and his squad a sour taste in their mouths.
"It did not end well," Oats said. "We were not playing our best basketball. Due to injuries, we just did not have enough depth to withstand our injuries to our perimeter guys. Some positives were that I thought our guys adjusted to our playing style pretty well. We shot a lot of threes and broke a few SEC records.
"I am not happy with where we are. They did not bring us in here to go 16-15. We had that discussion with some players at the end of year but you have to look at the positives."
The main takeaway that Crimson Tide fans can get from Oats' time with the media is this — changes are coming. Big changes for the 2020-2021 campaign.
For starters, sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. and junior wing John Petty Jr. are going to test the NBA Draft waters. Oats and the staff are fully preparing and expecting them not to return.
"They will put their names in the draft and go through the workouts," Oats said. "They both had really good years, both All-SEC players. They both need to have good workouts to get their selves to where they want to be.
"If they both were to come back it would be a pleasant surprise."
Depending on if Lewis and Petty get drafted, the ramifications are huge on the recruiting trail. In only one season under Oats' leadership and style, elite prospects across the nation and maybe even, internationally, will take notice and think about bringing their talents to Tuscaloosa.
It remains to be seen what happens with the rest of the roster but Oats believes it could be "significantly different."
"With three guys sitting out that you did not get to see play (James Rojas, Juwan Gary, and Jahvon Quinerly)," Oats said. "It starts with them but we are planning on adding some guys."
There is no telling how long the coronavirus will have everything shut down and if Oats had it his way, he would be traveling the country getting face time and recruiting high school prospects and visiting with other players who have entered the transfer portal right now.
Since the end of the season, hundreds of Division 1 players have entered the portal and, reportedly, Alabama has had contact with numerous ones — Bowling Green's Justin Turner, Pittsburgh's Trey McGowens, Virginia Tech's Landers Nolley II, among others.
Oats laid out the plan for what he is looking for in his next crop of recruits.
"We would like to get more big guards that can play," Oats said. "We want more guys that pass, dribble, and shoot all over the court. We want more bigs that can shoot. We are looking at every possible angle there is — high schoolers, junior college guys, and in the transfer portal."
He made mention that the staff is hoping to land one commitment this week. One of the Crimson Tide's top targets is 2020 five-star combo guard Joshua Primo, who is expected to make a decision soon.
The one guaranteed addition for next season is four-star forward Keon Ambrose-Hylton who signed during the early signing period.
"That is our hope, but we are not going to force a kid to do anything," Oats said. "That being said, we are working the phones pretty hard."
Freshman big man Raymond Hawkins is the only member of the Crimson Tide who has entered the transfer portal so far but Oats has let the team know he will find a place for them elsewhere if they are not comfortable at Alabama.
"I love Raymond," Oats said. "I think he is a great kid. Maybe it did not work out here but we are going to do everything we can to get him in a spot where he is comfortable. I told our guys, if any of you are not comfortable, and some of you were not recruited to play this style, we will 100 percent help you make a decision and get to a better spot if that is what you want.
"Now, at this point, no else has made that decision (to transfer) but as we get more commits, we will have those conversations and they may be a little harder conversations. They may think their playing time will go down. Some of that will be decided by how much they want to compete to earn a spot."
Junior forward Alex Reese was arrested for public intoxication the night the team returned from Nashville, Tenn. after the cancellation of the SEC tournament. Oats noted that the consequences have been internal and Reese has been taking the steps in the right direction since then.
"Alex obviously made a poor decision," Oats said. "It didn't represent him or his family. He is in the process of handling the consequences of his actions. When we all return, he is going to have to prove that he wants to be a part of this program to us."
One guard that Alabama will use to replace Lewis, if he decides to stay in the NBA Draft, is Villanova transfer, Jahvon Quinerly, who sat out the entire 2019-2020 season.
“A lot of you saw Quinerly in practice," Oats said. "And, shoot, he was really good. Some days, he was the best player in practice. Him and Kira went head to head every day and made each other better.”
In the days and weeks ahead, lots of uncertainty remains but one thing that is certain is that Oats is not backing down from the challenge of building a premier basketball program at the Capstone.