TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — While Alabama basketball might have suffered back-to-back losses over the past week, there was some positive news for the program on Friday morning.
The first was an update on senior forward James Rojas, who is recovering from an ACL tear that he suffered in practice last June. Rojas was able to suit up and warm up with the team against Auburn last Tuesday, but didn't see any action in the game.
Crimson Tide head coach gave an optimistic update on when Rojas is expected to return to the court for the team.
“Rojas is getting closer,” Oats said. “He’s been able to do some live stuff on the court in practice so we talked to the trainer after practice today and Clarke [Holter] said we’ll dress him out. Maybe looking possibly at LSU next week but he’s going through warmups and everything right now as if he’s going to play. It should be within a week with Rojas.
"I thought he looked pretty good today in practice so try to get him probably to the next stage: get him doing everything live in practice, full court up and down. He looked good in the half-court. Guarding, he brings some toughness, he passed the ball well. But he’s on the scout team when we guard their stuff in the half court and he looked good.”
Last season, Rojas played in 30 games for Alabama. While he averaged just 2.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, his grit and hard-nosed play-style earned him 16 steals and 6 blocks over those games. While his effort might not show up on a stats sheet, Rojas was a key contributor in Oats' blue-collar style of play.
Another injury update was that of sophomore guard Nimari Burnett, who joined the team last offseason after transferring from Texas Tech. Burnett had season-ending knee surgery last September as a result of an injury suffered in practice.
“Clarke said he’s ahead of schedule [and] he’s doing unbelievable,” Oats said. “He’s a kid that works really hard, take his game very seriously, he’s very professional about everything — he’s coming along really well.”
Earlier this week, Burnett shared a video on his Twitter page showing him knocking down three-point shots from the corner at Alabama's practice facility.
While Burnett is still far from being able to return and won't be able to do so until next season, the video received a lot of positive reactions from fans.
Oats admitted that he hasn’t seen the video of Burnett shooting since he’s taken all social media off of his phone this season before beginning to assume what content the video displayed.
“My guess would be he was making a lot of shots on the video,” Oats chuckled. “I don’t know. Otherwise, they probably don’t put the video out. But my guess would be he’s making them because he makes shots, too. Before he got injured I think he was in 10 or 11 — skill workouts we call them, they’re essentially practices and live stuff — and in any of the five-on-five live stuff we had in those workouts he was shooting 60-percent from three in live action with live defense against guys competing to play for minutes."
Oats then went on to discuss the contributions that Burnett would have likely given the program this season, which has struggled of late to shoot from beyond the arc. Additionally, he talked about the contributions that Burnett has made despite him not being able to play this season.
“It would have been great to have him this year," Oats said. "We could have certainly used his shooting. We’ve struggled to shoot the ball at various times this year and he’s one of the best shooters we have on the team. I anticipate him being one of the best shooters we have next year and one of the better shooters in the country to be honest with you. He’s got a pretty high IQ and he’s really locked into what the team’s doing this year even though he’s out. He’s been a great teammate, he makes comments in video, talks to the guys when they’re out of the game, I think he’s showing some leadership qualities.
“We’re excited he’s in the program. Wish he could have played this year. It’s unfortunate he can’t, but his rehab’s coming along fine and I think he’ll be at 100-percent by the time the season starts next year.”