The 2020 University of Alabama basketball season ended so abruptly, and the focus shifted to the future so quickly, head coach Nate Oats wasn’t asked a single question in his Tuesday teleconference about the surreal scene in Nashville less than two weeks earlier.
His team was dressed in full uniform. The assistant coaches were standing in front of the players, going over the game plan for a Southeastern Conference Tournament game. Oats fully expected the next knock on the door would be an all-clear to go on the floor in an eerily empty arena. Instead, it was an official instructing them to head for the team bus.
“I think everybody in our program was ready to play that game against Tennessee, and I think we were rather disappointed,” Oats said.
So there was no Cinderella story since the fairy godmother had called in sick. There was only the memory of the final week of SEC play, probably the worst week Alabama had been through since December. There would be no “Shining Moment” video, no mourning like the feeling in Dayton or Lawrence or a dozen other hopeful towns, not even a team banquet, canceled, like every other school function, by a cautious approach to the coronavirus.
Oats hasn’t tried to sugarcoat the season. The impact quote from his Tuesday press conference was “they didn’t bring us in here to go 16-15.” But there were bright moments, big wins and thrilling efforts that will, eventually, become memories. Oats didn’t love the record and he wants to improve the roster but, like any coach, he will someday have a soft spot for his first Alabama team, if he doesn’t already.
“The positives were that I thought our guys adjusted to our playing style pretty well,” Oats said. “I think they wanted to play that way (and) they played that way. I thought we got better. Our offense was really hitting a peak until the injuries kind of started to take its toll in the middle of conference play. We shot a lot of threes. They broke an SEC record for the number of threes made in a game. Now, we’ve got to get some guys that are able to finish at the rim and get us some more free-throw attempts and more at-the-rim twos, as well. But I think adapting to our style was good.”
Also, and time will tell, but Alabama should have a promising core in the future, even if Kira Lewis and John Petty do not return, as Oats seems to think is possible. This is about as far into the future as my crystal ball can see but it wouldn’t be shocking to have four of next November’s starting five be Herb Jones, Jaden Shackelford, Jahvon Quinerly and James Rojas.
The depth situation and maybe even the fifth starter might become clearer fairly quickly, perhaps as soon as this Friday in some ways. Five isn’t nearly enough, of course.
Depth was an issue for Alabama all season long. But that group, plus some others, should start far ahead of where they were last October, thanks in large part to what they learned in 2020.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt