Scouting Report: 2020-21 Alabama Basketball
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's not uncommon for a roster to dramatically change following a coaching change, but for Alabama basketball and Nate Oats it didn't quite happen until this offseason.
When the Crimson Tide gets back in the court, and currently there's no way of knowing when that might be, the team is going to look very different. Everyone knew guard James "Beetle" Bolden was out of eligibility, and guard Kira Lewis Jr. has remained firm on his decision to enter the 2020 NBA Draft — a move that looks better by the minute as he's widely considered to be a borderline lottery pick.
The only player left with a question mark is wing John Petty Jr. With the draft set for Oct. 16, and the early-entry deadline to withdraw Aug. 17, he still has a month to make a final decision.
Regardless, fans are going to need more than a roster to figure out who's who on the Crimson Tide, especially with so many players coming and going, either transferring out or signing on to play for Nate Oats.
Alabama has three returning fixtures from last season: PF Alex Reese, SG Jaden Shackelford, F/G Herbert Jones. Petty is obviously a potential fourth. Reese had offseason hip surgery and Jones was playing with a cast to protect a fractured wrist.
The Crimson Tide will also have three players who didn't play in 2019-20: SF Juwan Gary, PF James Rojas, PG Jahvon Quinerly. The forwards both suffered knee injuries and Quinerly had his request to play last season after transferring denied by the NCAA.
Alabama could have used all three last season. But remember, the latter two were transfers so there's an experience factor that can benefit the Crimson Tide. The 6-8 Rojas was a junior college first-team All-American, and Quinerly a 2018 McDonald’s All-American.
"Jevon Quinelry is a tough northeast guard," assistant coach Bryan Hodgson said on the Crimson Tide Sports Network last week. "Not that the guards here aren’t tough, but that’s something he takes pride in being. He had a great year of practice for us. There were a lot of days as a staff, and even Kira Lewis was like, ‘Man, I wish he was playing.’
"If there was any year to sit out in college basketball it was last year. So they really didn’t lose anything."
Here's a sampling of what Hodgson and Oats have said about Alabama's six new players, including the recent addition of 6-11 forward Alex Tchikou, along with forward Keon Ambrose-Hylton, graduate transfer Jordan Bruner, junior-college transfer Keon Ellis, forward Darius Miles and guard Josh Primo, who have turned heads as a recruiting class.
Keon Ambrose-Hylton, PF, Toronto, Ontario/Andrews Osborne Academy
“Keon’s a guy, obviously one of our two Canadians that really is a do-it-all," Hodgson said. "He’s a glue guy, he’s a workhorse. He prides himself on playing with a ton of energy and enthusiasm. Anybody that got to see him play in high school or AAU would strongly agree with that. He’s loud and vocal on the floor, and he almost plays as if he’s like hyperactive. When you can get a kid his size — 6-8, 6-9 — that plays with that much energy and is that mobile it really bodes well for what we want to do as a program and the way we want to play. We’re looking forward to having him.
“There was a game last year that he played in a tournament in Dayton, Ohio — one of the largest tournaments in the country — he played against two of the top-ranked bigs in the country and ended the game with 20 rebounds, 12 offensive rebounds. So, that’s something we’re going to look for from him — shore up the rebounding. Also, he can guard, honestly, like the two through the five. He’s got quick feet. He’ll be able to switch ball screens, which is something that anybody that’s watched us knows we do quite a bit. He’ll bring a nice dimension for us.”
Keon Ellis, G, Fort Myers, Fla./Florida Southwestern State
“Keon is dynamic scorer that's proven he can score at a high-level while being efficient as well on offense," Oats said. "He plays the defensive side of the ball as well, being a long perimeter defender with quick instincts. While his offensive production has us really excited, we're equally excited for his defensive contributions he will provide as well. He's a proven winner having played on the top-ranked junior college team in the country this season. He led them in scoring while shooting over 40 percent from three-point range. He's exactly what we're looking for in a scoring guard in both our offensive and defensive systems.”
“We’re really excited about Keon," Hodgson said. "We kind of have a special place for junior college guys. Coach Oats and I have won a lot of basketball games with junior college guys on the floor. As far as that goes, he was one of the best in the country this year. He was the leading scorer for the No. 1 junior college team in the country and really just played well all year. Started watching him last summer, really liked his game and spent the fall kind of seeing how he would develop and how it would translate into the regular season for them. He didn’t miss a beat.
“We targeted early and knew that he was a guy that we wanted. His recruitment, obviously, came to a halt when the coronavirus hit because he hadn’t taken any visits. His season, they were ready to go to the junior college national tournament. That’s one of those scenarios where we built the strongest relationship with him before the virus hit, and when push came to shove and it was time to make a decision he chose to come here. A cool dynamic about Keon is he actually grew up an Alabama football fan. Even though he’s from Florida, the first time I called him, he said, ‘Coach, I can’t believe Alabama called.’ He said, ‘I’ve been an Alabama football fan since I was born.’ That didn’t hurt, that’s for sure.”
Jordan Bruner, F, Yale
“We felt like Jordan was the best grad transfer available this season based on what we needed," Oats said. "He provides us a big that impacts the game tremendously on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he's a big that is capable of being a playmaker on the perimeter while also providing a presence inside. His basketball IQ and overall skill level are exactly what we needed to put us in a position to contend on a nationally-relevant level. Defensively, he can provide rim protection, move well enough to switch and guard perimeter players, rebound the ball and then push the ball in the break to help our transition game. He's played in multiple NCAA tournaments and pushed Yale to unprecedented heights in his time there. We're looking for him to do the same in his year with us.”
“To be able to get a guy like Jordan is extremely rare," Hodgson said. "We’re very fortunate. We believe he was the best graduate transfer in the country to fit our needs. Different rankings have maybe one or two guys above him, but as far as what we were looking for, it’s not even close. He’s another guy that at 6-10, 230 can play really the two through the five. He handles the ball, he shoots it. He’s an unbelievable passer. He’s got the only triple-double in Yale basketball history. He almost had a second one. And the one really great thing about him is he brings a wealth and knowledge and experience to this team to add to guys like Herb [Jones] and Alex Reese and those guys. He’s been in college for four years. He’s won the Ivy League. He’s played at a high level. So, we’re excited to have him. We’re looking for him to lead both on and off the court.”
Darius Miles, PF | Washington, D.C./IMG Academy
“Darius is a unique story," Hodgson said. "There’s a kid in the 2021 class that I went to watch down at IMG, and I went to IMG to meet with that young man, and I’m in the gym and my flight didn’t leave for a couple hours, so I happened to wander over to the next gym. IMG has a high school team and a postgraduate team. So, I sit down to watch the postgraduate team, and it took all of about five minutes and four or five possessions for me to watch Darius Miles and realize that he was a talented kid. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Well, sure enough, he’s got to be signed somewhere, or there’s got to be some kind of hitch here that I don’t know about the guy.’ Well, come to find out, he wasn’t signed, and he was flying under the radar because he was actually only a senior but chose to play up on the postgraduate team to stay loyal to the coach that brought him there. So a lot of guys thought he was in his fifth year. He was only in his fourth.
“We hopped on it right away, developed a relationship with him and kind of the same deal as Keon Ellis, the virus hit before we could even do an official visit. It came down for him to make a college decision, and we hopped on a couple Zoom calls and spent some time with him on the phone with him and his family and he decided to come here to Alabama. We’re fortunate because he’s going to be special. He’s a big, 6-7, long, athletic guard, probably one of the more athletic guys in the program right now. We’re looking forward to watching his development.”
“Darius has tremendous upside as a big wing that can play multiple positions," Oats said. "He's exceptionally skilled for his size on the perimeter. One of the best aspects of his game as I watched him was his passing ability from his position. His outlet passes and ability to handle the ball in the break will enable us to play even faster than what we had before. He has all the tools to be a great defender and rebounder as well. Playing his last year as a postgrad has given him a head start on what will be required of a freshman at a high major D-I level. We think once he's fully into our program he can contribute to our overall culture of winning up-tempo basketball and play multiple positions for us."
Josh Primo, 5-star CG | Toronto, Ontario/Royal Crown
“Josh gives us that other ball-handler in the backcourt to play alongside our other guards," Oats said. "His size at the guard position allows us to play multiple guards on the floor together as we like to do. He's a big-time gym rat that's shown great improvement even here recently. His play in February showed he's ready to immediately contribute heavily for us as we compete for an SEC title. We love Josh's overall versatility, play-making ability, shooting and his experience playing on Canadian national teams. He's a proven competitor on both ends of the floor on an international level of play."
“Josh is a special talent," Hodgson said. "Obviously, the rankings and the 5-star and the whole deal says that, but even outside of that stuff, you take all of that stuff away, I’ve been watching Josh since he was in ninth grade. Obviously, Buffalo’s about a stone’s throw away from Toronto, and [spent] summers in Toronto, so I’ve been watching Josh since he was in ninth grade, playing for an AAU organization up there that I’ve known coaches for a long time. His development has been unbelievable. He’s gotten substantially better every single year, and it’s not a coincidence. He’s one of the hardest working kids that I’ve been able to be around. He’s going to bring a lot to the table this year. I think that combining him with Quinerly and (Shackelford) and Herbert Jones and John Petty, if he comes back to school, to add to that talented guard corps with what he’s capable of doing, I think we’re capable of having one of the better backcourts in the country.”
Alex Tchikou, PF, Paris, France/Dream City Christian
“Alex is a kid that I’ve watched for, gosh, going on three years now, since he came to the United States and went to Findlay Prep," Hodgson said. "Findlay Prep was a storied program out in Las Vegas and actually closed down, so he was forced to move schools. But I started watching him there and just kept tabs on him over the last couple of years, and he’s really developed. He’s … we kind of like to look at him as a poor man’s version of like a Kevin Durant or the Greek Freak (Giannis Antetokounmpo) as far as he’s big. He’s 6-11, can play on the perimeter, is an inside-outside guy. He can handle the ball a little bit. Obviously, he’s got a ways to go to get to that level of the guys that we’ve talking about, but as far as comparing him to someone that people know, those would be the closest comparisons, or even a Pascal Siakam, who’s someone that he actually tries to study. So, he brings a different dynamic that we haven’t had here at Alabama and allows us to stretch the floor and continue to play the pace that Coach Oats wants to play with long, athletic bigs. [We’re] Looking forward to getting him here.”