Alabama basketball vs. UAB?

The Crimson Tide taking on South Alabama?

It’s quite possible.

UA men’s basketball coach Nate Oats spoke Sunday at a luncheon for the Alabama Sports Writers Association and discussed several issues, including the possibility of scheduling games with in-state schools.

“We have talked about it,” Oats said. “We want to play as many in-state schools — it’s got to fit for us and for them. We may play Samford up there in Birmingham. I wouldn’t be opposed to playing South Alabama because that gets you down in the Mobile area where we have a big fan base.”

Alabama has played in-state games against the likes of Stillman, Alabama A&M and Alabama-Huntsville in recent years, all at Coleman Coliseum.

The Crimson Tide has played in Huntsville the past three years in the Rocket City Classic, but not against in-state opponents. Alabama also played Clemson in 2016 in Birmingham at the Vulcan Classic.

“Outside the small city of Auburn I think have a big fan base all over the state,” Oats joked. “I would be open to it. In the future I would not be opposed to that. It’s just got to make sense on both ends.

“We are just not going down to play a road game without getting something in return. If we can make it work, we are open to it for sure.”

Portal problems

Oats’ first weeks at Alabama were spent getting to know his players and dealing with the NCAA’s new “notification-of-transfer” model, more commonly known as the “transfer portal.” The new system allows athletes to inform their current school of a desire to transfer. Once their name is in the database, other coaches are free to contact them.

Several UA players put their name into the portal with two coming back to the team (guards John Petty and Kira Lewis) and a few others opting to leave (guards Dazon Ingram and Diante Wood, and forward Daniel Giddens). Guard Tevin Mack is still in the portal and hasn’t announced whether he will return to UA or enroll elsewhere.

“It makes it a little different,” Oats said. “I haven’t had a chance to make them mad yet, really. They may want to leave based on something else or they may want a fresh start with another coach and stay here.

“I have a really good relationship with the guys that left, but I just sat them down — with the way we want to play, there was way too many bigs here that didn’t fit into what we were doing and they just weren’t going to play.”

The challenge for getting athletes not to transfer, Oats said, depends a lot on playing time but also the environment.

“It’s huge now that you have to build a culture to where kids want to be in that culture and they are not looking for the ‘grass is greener’ situation,” Oats said. “If they are not going to play, it makes it easier for them to go find a place where they are going to play. If you get a kid in here that is going to play, you have to build a culture to where he wants to stay. That’s what our plan is, and we have a great start on it.”

First-year priorities

Oats spoke at great length about his blueprint for success at Alabama, which is basically the same template he used for four years at Buffalo.

It starts with building a solid roster.

“There wasn’t enough guards,” Oats said of the situation at Alabama. “At Buffalo we started two-point guards, a combo guard, a 6-7 two-guard and four-man that could shoot. The roster wasn’t set up anything like that here. We want to play a lot faster and a lot more wide open, so we need to get the roster set.”

Oats has taken those first steps in building a roster suited for his style, getting graduate transfer Beetle Bolden, Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly, and Hutchinson Community College transfer James Rojas and signee Raymond Hawkins.

“Moving forward we need to get started on getting some younger kids,” Oats said. “We will have guys that won’t play (2019 season) and some will leave. We are planning on that happening. We are getting our eyes on some kids. We have to build a culture to where the guys realize how hard they are going to have to play and how fast we play. They don’t have any idea how hard it is. They are just not used to doing it at the pace that we do it. We have to get some guys in shape and guys that are willing to play at that pace.”