TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Like it was for many fans, Alabama football coach Nick Saban admired the toughness and competitiveness of the Crimson Tide's basketball team this year that made it all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before falling to UCLA on Sunday night.
“I think it’s pretty obvious," Saban said on Tuesday evening of what's changed with the Alabama hoops program under coach Nate Oats. "What I admire the most about our basketball team this year — and I think I’ve mentioned it before — is the way they competed, how hard they played and how they came back in games. They won some really close games, tough games. Really good mental toughness."
In just year two of the Oats era, Alabama won its first Southeastern Conference regular season title since 2002 and its first conference tournament title since 1991.
It was also the first time that the Crimson Tide had reached the regional semifinals of the Big Dance since 2004. Alabama's 26 wins was tied for the second-most in program history.
"We just seemed a little out of sorts in the game the other day, which I don’t really know why," Saban added. "But the guys played hard, they competed hard and I really have a tremendous amount of respect for that.
"And I think the culture of that program, because of what Coach Oats has done, really shined through this year with the way that team played, the way they improved, the way they competed, the way they played together. I think all those things are critical factors in having a successful program."
Saban believes a deep run for the Crimson Tide will ultimately help on the recruiting trail. Alabama currently has a top-10 class for 2021 per Sports Illustrated All-American the includes the likes of elite point guard JD Davison, wing Jusaun Holt and JUCO transfer Langston Wilson.
"I think that’s what a lot of players wanna be involved in, too," Saban said. "So hopefully that’ll help us in recruiting to get some really good players for the future. I know we’ve got some good young players on our team and to complement them."
Lastly, Saban offered up encouragement for the program after the hard loss. His 2016 Crimson Tide team lost to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, then the following year, came back and won the title against Georgia.
Don't waste a failure.
"But I was really, really proud of the way our basketball team played," Saban said. "It’s just like when we lost, in the end sometimes, you never wanna waste a failing, and then you wanna go to work on what you have to do to improve. But you also have to understand what you accomplished as a team and what you established as a team in terms of the success that you had, and I think this team was something that everybody was very, very proud of the way they competed all year long.”