INDIANAPOLIS — Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats has proclaimed a “culture change” for the Crimson Tide program, a sweeping phrase that means different things to different people.
Oats’ perspective for that comment could be broad and expansive. Better than anyone else, he is positioned to judge the response from recruits across the nation, whether highly-ranked by the recruiting services or evaluated by the staff according to Alabama’s particular needs. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, of course.
Oats is also uniquely suited to evaluate the younger players on the roster. That includes talent but also work ethic, coachability, and what the old school likes to refer to as “locker room presence.” That’s part of “culture change,” probably a more important part of Oats’ analysis than people realize. But let’s try to put a more precise definition to the concept.
1) Fan Interest. There has always been a strong core group of Alabama basketball fans, moreso than the national media realizes. Does that mean Alabama fans always fill up Coleman Coliseum, the Taj Majal of Quonset Huts, for a Tuesday night game when the team is 8-9? No. Would this year’s games have been tough tickets except for the coronavirus? Definitely.
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2) Postseason Consistency. This is tougher than you think. Look around this year’s NCAA Tournament field. Do you see Duke? Kentucky? Louisville? Indiana? Bad years happen, although an almost immediate answer when fans are asked about what reasonable expectations are, “make the NCAA Tournament every year” is the answer. A culture change would mean being competitive for a berth every year, without droughts that last six or seven years.
3) Winning Despite Personnel Changes. Players are going to graduate. Some are going to leave for the pros, others for more conducive situations they hope to find at the other end of the transfer portal. A likely guess is that the transfer portal will be a zero-sum proposition for Alabama in the offseason.
So what will Alabama basketball 2022 look like?
The Crimson Tide had solid talent in 2021. It wasn’t Gonzaga/Michigan-level talent, but the roster was deep. Herbert Jones, John Petty Jr. and a much-improved Alex Reese won’t be easily replaced. Could someone else on the roster test the NBA waters? It wouldn’t be surprising in this era of the “no agent, no harm, no foul” NBA evaluation, it might be smart for Jahvon Quinerly or Josh Primo to get feedback, even if the evaluations are that another year of college would help.
Quinerly, via his Twitter, seems strongly leaning to return.
Nothing is certain in life, but I’d feel confident about this: with Quinerly and incoming McDonald’s All-America J.D. Davison, it will take a stout defense to keep Alabama from getting up the floor and to the rim. The other key pieces with experience on the perimeter will be Primo, Jaden Shackelford and Keon Ellis, all solid. Juwan Gary developed into an inside beast in 2021, but, as the UCLA game illustrated, even a beast can be undersized. Alex Tchikou, the 6-foot-11 medical redshirt, might help. Paired with another 7-footer in late recruiting, that might help more.
James Rojas, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, and Darius Miles all have the potential to make a season-to-season jump like Gary’s.
The culture change Oats spoke about seems real. The 2021-22 season will be an interesting lab experiment in its growth rate.