Key Departures: John Petty (Grad); Herb Jones (Grad); Joshua Primo (NBA); Alex Reese (Grad); Jordan Bruner (Grad)
New In Town: Noah Gurley (<–Furman); Nimari Burnett (<–Texas Tech); JD Davison (#12); Charles Bediako (#34); Jusaun Holt (#109)
State of the Program:
Welcome to the national spotlight Nate Oats and thank you for bringing so much excitement to college hoops. Oats has quickly become my favorite coach in college basketball, as his style is the embodiment of every philosophy I’ve always believed in. Fast pace, high pressure defense with a ball screen, drive and kick offense predicated on firing 3’s ad nauseam. His unique coaching style, including a 4 point line and making mid-range shots worth only 1 point in practice were well documented a year ago, and Alabama’s rise to the top of the SEC and a Sweet 16 trip in his 2nd season have put him at the top of the list of college candidates expected to make the leap to the NBA. I truly believe if Oats sticks around he will make a Final Four, but while he may not be in the College ranks for long, he has the returning talent this season to compete at the top of the country once again. This year’s group will be led by returning G’s and leading scorers Jahvon Quinerly (JR) and Jaden Shackelford (JR) along with a host of returning role players and bench players who will look to grow into larger roles, including Keon Ellis (SR), Juwan Gary (SO), James Rojas (SR), Darius Miles (SO), Keon Ambrose-Hylton (SO), and Alex Tchikou (FR). It will be a big group for Oats with a lot of talented kids battling for a role, as there are talented transfers and Freshmen joining this group as well. A great place for any HC to be.
Leading the incoming group is 2x All-Southern selection 6’8” F Noah Gurley (SR). Gurley started 83 games over 3 seasons for Furman and comes in as a stretch 4 that can make plays in the post both for himself and others. He is not Herb Jones but I’m not sure Oats could have found a better option to try and replace Jones. Gurley will start at the 4 and will excel with Bama using his length and athleticism to guard any position and be a legitimate weapon at all 3 levels on offense. The other transfer is Nimari Burnett (SO), who was a top-50 recruit that only played 12 games a season ago for Texas Tech. He’s a bigger guard that excels at getting to the rim and finishing through contact. He will have to improve his perimeter shooting in order to earn playing time for Oats. The newcomer who has the best chance to make a splash is 5-star Freshman G JD Davison (#12). Do yourself a favor and go look at his highlight tape, unbelievable. I can’t really put into words the ridiculous athleticism he has, and his feel for the game is off the charts. Personally I can’t wait to see the highlights all season long, as his flare and showmanship will be pure electricity and he should thrive under Oats’ fast paced philosophy. His role in a larger context this season will come down to decision making and his willingness to defend consistently. He could be very, very special and either way is a sure fire lottery pick. Next up is 7’0” big man Charles Bediako (#34), who comes to campus looking to battle for minutes at the 5 spot. Bediako is a gifted athlete, as he moves well for his size, but is still very raw when it comes to his skillset. This season he can help as a shot blocker and anchor on defense but his limitations on offense may suppress his minutes in his Freshman season. I look for Tchikou to start there and for Oats to go small some and use Gurley as a small ball 5 with Gary and/or Rojas sliding in at the 4. The last newcomer is 6’6” wing Jusaun Holt (#109), who figures to redshirt but has potential to be an impact guy down the road. He has good athleticism and shows promise as a shooter, exactly the traits Oats looks for.
There’s a lot of talent on this roster for Oats and I’ll be tracking a couple of decisions early. The first is where does Davison fit in? Quinerly and Shackelford surely take 2 backcourt spots, but Davison alongside those 2 means Oats is starting 6’1”, 6’3”, and 6’3”, not ideal for a team that doesn’t have a deep frontcourt inside to help dominate the glass. If he does that he surely has to pair that group with Gurley and Tchikou who are 6’8” and 6’11” respectively to give them some size and rebounding. I could see Davison being a 6th man type role similar to Quinerly a year ago, with Ellis at 6’6” sliding in to start at the 3. The other thing I’ll be watching is how often do they play small and how effectively will they rebound in that lineup. Frankly I’m not convinced Bediako will be ready right out of the gates to play at a high level, so Tchikou is the only other guy over 6’8” on the roster. The lack of size is a concern, so a couple guys like Gurley, Gary, Rojas, and Hylton will need to emerge to help fill the void left behind by the exit of Jones and Bruner. Ultimately, I think the star potential in Shackelford and Quinerly combined with the surrounding cast put Bama at the top of the SEC and in the National conversation for Final Four contenders. The lack of size may catch up to them, but Oats and this Bama team will be much watch TV all season long.