Jaden Shackelford Looks to Build Upon Solid Freshman Season for Alabama Basketball
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you were to point at one freshman in Nate Oats’ first recruiting class for Alabama basketball last season who made the most impact in his first season, the name would undoubtedly be Jaden Shackelford.
Last season, Shackelford saw action in all 31 of the Crimson Tide’s games, starting 19 of them. At the end of the season that was ended mere hours before Alabama’s first game of the SEC Tournament, the freshman guard led Alabama in three-pointers with 84 and also finished third on the team in free throws with 86.
Shackelford’s dynamic play on the court and hot start as a freshman was one of the key factors that helped ignite excitement among the fan base last season. Now, heading into both his and Oats’ second season for Alabama, the excitement is even more palpable.
In a virtual press conference with the media back on Oct. 15, Shackelford discussed the conversation he had with Oats heading into last season, noting the unknowns on his part regarding what he could contribute to the team.
“There were definitely some unknowns,” Shackelford said. “Of course I’m always confident in my ability. Coach talked to me letting me know when I came in what I needed to do for this team. Last year was good for me, humbly, and I feel like coming in coach and I had a conversation you know about expectations for this year so just coming in, being a leader this year and just continuing to do what I need to do to help this team win. If that’s being a better defender then I definitely need to be that for this team and stepping up in my offensive role.”
While Shackelford was one of Alabama’s best players on the offensive end of the court last season, the departure of Kira Lewis Jr. to the NBA should place Shackelford in an even larger offensive role.
That being said, there is going to be a lot of competition for playing time this season. Combined with returners like senior guard John Petty Jr., senior wing Herbert Jones and senior forward Alex Reese, a 2021 class filled with talent is also providing a ton of talent from the bench.
To Shackelford, all of the added threats along with the returners on offense make him excited to see what his team can do this season.
“It’s amazing,” Shackelford said. “That just adds more threats around the floor. Now we have guys shooting very good percentages from three in practice so just the more threats the better. We got guys like Primo and Keon Ellis that can shoot the ball really well on top of me, JP and Reese, JQ and Herb’s jump shot is coming along so it’s good to have shooters like this all around the floor. We’re in the gym working hard every day so really seeing it pay off.”
Adding new players does more than just provide talent on the court in games. It also adds to the intensity of practice. If players are forced to compete with each other in practice against players of a higher level, then they themselves also elevate their game. Along with that comes greater internal competition for competing for a starting role and competing for more minutes in games, something that each players want to see happen for them.
Shackelford noted that the added competition on the court has not only helped him offensive but defensively as well at the guard position.
“It’s great playing with guys like [Josh] Primo and [Jahvon Quinerly],” Shackelford said. “We’ve all done our reps at the one, me and Primo one and two. They challenge me on the defensive end and staying in front of them, they’re quick, crafty guards so we all help each other get better on that end you know and just forcing each other to get better every day. Making sure that we’re working each other and getting the most out of each other is big for us. That guard play is huge for us so we’re just holding each other accountable each and every day.”
Listening to what Shackelford has to say about his teammates this early in the preseason process is good to hear. It seems that chemistry and competition have both been staples in practice so far, something that Oats instilled very successfully at his former job at Buffalo.
Oats explained that by shifting other players to guard like Jones and Quinerly, the entire position group of players develop at the position and helps them acquire new skills in the long run. This is particularly helpful to players like Shackelford.
“We’ve put other guys at the point which I think helps their development,” Oats said. “I talked to Shaq about this just this week. You know him playing the point even though he’s not a point guard, per se — he’s more of a scoring guard and he does that really, really well. I mean he scores the ball as good as about anyone on the team — I think playing him at the point helped him with some of his decision making doing all that — if we need to play him there we can.
Oats then explained his reasoning further.
“Look, if you play Herb there you’re going to have to guard Shaq, guard the point guard going the other way anyways so we do have some options,” Oats said. “Probably not quite as many as we’d like but I think Quinerly, Primo, Herb, Shaq, Keon Ellis we’ve played there some, has played it so we have more options than we did last year for sure but maybe still not quite as many as we’d like but it’s a lot better than it was last year.”
Alabama basketball is primed for a solid rotation at the guard position. For the upcoming season, it will be interesting to see just how many players Oats has in mind for playing point, as it looks like multiple players are being groomed to see time at the position.