Alabama basketball: Oats says roster could 'look significantly different' next season

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Alabama coach Nate Oats.

TUSCALOOSA — There is no downtime for Nate Oats, not even during a global pandemic.

Just under a year after he was hired away from Buffalo, and two weeks after his disappointing first season at Alabama was cut short when the SEC tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Crimson Tide coach is already rebuilding a roster.

“I think it’s going to look significantly different,” Oats said during a Tuesday conference call with local reporters. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting our roster to look a lot more like we want it to look like, with more big guards, more guys that are skilled, with some size on the perimeter that can play. … I’m not happy with where we are. They didn’t bring us in here to go 16-15, we had that discussion with some players after the year.”

Alabama (16-15, 8-10 SEC) ended Year One under Oats in a bit disheartening fashion after losing eight of its final 12 games, including several winnable SEC games down the stretch to fall out of NCAA tournament contention for the third straight year.

It was an especially disappointing first season for Oats, who lost just 13 games over his final two seasons at Buffalo where he won the Mid-Atlantic Conference tournament in three of his four seasons as head coach. That disappointment, stemming from multiple late-game collapses against less-than-elite SEC opponents, led Oats to publicly challenge his players’ effort as the team struggled to develop any sort of consistency within his up-tempo system of play meant to keep opposing teams off balance.

“I think people understand that we came in and said we were going to play a certain way, and we didn’t lie,” Oats said. “A lot of coaches say they’re going to play fast, and they’re one of the slowest teams in the country. We said we were going to play with a certain tempo, and we played that way even with a roster that didn’t necessarily fit that and wasn’t necessarily recruited to play that way. That’s how we were going to play, and I thought we did a pretty good job of it with what we had.”

In spurts last season, the Crimson Tide embraced Oats’ plan of attack, especially offensively where it ranked third nationally with 82.0 points a game and fourth in tempo and 3-point field goal attempts. Alabama averaged 79 possessions a game and put up a school-record 957 shots from 3-point range.

Still, costly in-season injuries to key players such as junior wings Herb Jones and John Petty Jr. severely inhibited what Alabama could do on both sides of the ball, and there simply weren’t enough longer wing players with the 3-point shooting proficiency Oats’ wide-open offense requires, especially after losing newcomers Juwan Gary and James Rojas to ACL injuries before the season ever started.

It’s because of those late-season struggles and some potential offseason turnover that Alabama’s roster is expected to undergo a considerable overhaul this summer, including the emergence of Gary, Rojas and redshirt sophomore point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who sat out last season after the NCAA denied his eligibility waiver following his transfer from Villanova.

“I told our guys, if some of you aren’t comfortable, some of you weren’t recruited to play this type of style, we will 100 percent help you get to a better spot if that’s what you want,” Oats said. “At this point, none of them have made that decision, but as we start to get some commits, we’ll have those conversations and those may be a little harder conversations as they see those guys committed to us and realize their playing time is going to go down.”

Of course, recruiting has been made even more difficult with the NCAA’s current ban on all in-person contact based on government recommendations meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Not that it’s stopped Alabama’s staff from reaching out to prospective players.

“We are working the phones hard, me and all three assistants, and we’re trying to get this roster to look a lot more like what we need it to look like to play the way we want to play,” Oats said.

While Oats didn’t give an exact number in terms of how many openings he’s expecting to have to fill, based on his comments Tuesday, Alabama could add between three to five new players to the roster this offseason. Oats said Tuesday that is regardless of what happens with starting guards Kira Lewis Jr. and Petty, who are both entering their names into the NBA draft pool while still maintaining eligibility by not hiring agents.

“We’re under the assumption they’re both going to leave and we’re recruiting their replacements as we speak,” Oats said. “If either one of them happens to come back we’ll address that when those decisions are made. But I don’t think you can sit there and hope that guys come and then all of a sudden they leave.”

Lewis, who led the Crimson Tide in scoring each of the past two seasons, averaged 18.5 points agame last season and is considered a fringe mid-to-late first round pick according to most online mock drafts, while Petty, who had a transformative junior season while ranking ninth nationally shooting 44 percent from 3-point range, is thought to be mostly a second-day option at this point.

So far, Alabama has only lost two players off last year’s roster in graduate senior guard James “Beetle” Bolden and outgoing freshman center Raymond Hawkins, who entered the transfer portal the day the Tide’s season ended in Nashville. Others could be inclined to look elsewhere as well.

Alabama has already filled one of those openings with its lone 2020 signee so far in 6-foot-8 four-star forward Keon Ambrose-Hylton of Ohio, and Oats is hopeful to add another later this week.

“We’re looking to have at least one committed this week — that’s our hope,” Oats said Tuesday.

Top-100 combo-guard Joshua Primo, a 6-6 four-star wing from Ontario, Canada, is scheduled to announce his commitment between Alabama and Creighton at some point Friday.

Alabama is also hot on the trail of several transfers, including Bowling Green graduate guard Justin Turner and junior college combo guard Keon Ellis of Florida SouthWestern State College.

“We’re looking at every possible angle there is,” Oats said. “We’re talking to high school kids that we’ve been tracking for a while, we’re talking to JUCO guys we’ve been tracking for a while, and we’re talking to transfers that just became available in the last week or two. We don’t know how this is going to end up looking.”