Like any successful competitor, new University of Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats probably realizes that every setback is an opportunity, a chance to reflect and analyze in order to be better prepared to win the next time. Most winning coaches obsess about the smallest details.
In the case of Mountain Brook basketball prospect Trendon Watford, who signed institutional paperwork with LSU on Monday after announcing for the Tigers in a ceremony at his school, there may not have been much that Oats could have done differently. Timing, according to the Watfords (both Trendon and his father, Ernest), worked against Oats, who simply didn’t have enough of an opportunity after taking over at Alabama in late March to forge the necessary relationship and sign Watford.
“Coach (Will) Wade and Coach (Bill) Armstrong (who played collegiately at UAB) have recruited me a long time,” Trendon Watford said. He also added that Wade “kept talking to me and telling me what was going on while he was suspended (for alleged recruiting violations.)”
That’s not something you hear a five-star recruit say every day. To say that everyone took Watford’s explanations about his reasons for choosing LSU at face value would be a stretch. Again, both father and son stressed that they were “Alabama fans” but that the “timing was wrong” after Avery Johnson’s departure. (No reason was given for why the “timing” was not right in November, when Watford could have signed with Alabama but didn’t.)
Nonetheless, he and his family are entitled to their own choices. Watford is not the first highly rated prospect to follow the Mario Austin–Eric Bledsoe–Boogie Cousins–D.J. White highway out of state. Oats and his staff can’t worry about Watford’s au revoir. Their job is to put Alabama’s program on a higher plateau, to give in-state talent less reason to look around. The best way to slow the exodus is to start stringing together NCAA appearances, and advancing in the tournament once selected.
Alabama isn’t starting from rock bottom. Regardless of what Watford did or didn’t do, the Crimson Tide was likely to add other players. A commitment from 6-foot-8 junior college All-American forward James Rojas, who had signed with Buffalo while Oats was there but was granted a release, could be forthcoming sooner rather than later. That might use all the currently available scholarships and might not be the end of Alabama’s recruiting for the 2019-2020 season. That accounting doesn’t have to be complete until the end of summer. (Freshman forward Diante Wood, a redshirt last season, announced on Monday that he would transfer to Jacksonville State, but his spot was considered available from the point when he entered the transfer portal on April 10.) One can make the argument that Oats is inheriting at least as much as, if not more than, any of the other new coaches at SEC schools (Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Texas A&M.) Watford would have been a nice addition but Oats’ attitude will almost certainly center on working with players, current and future, who want to be at Alabama, not those who don’t.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.