Nate Oats hit the ground running in recruiting, clearly.
On Saturday night, the new head coach of the Alabama men’s basketball team received his first UA commitment when 6-foot-9, 225-pound Raymond Hawkins announced that he would join the Crimson Tide, a decision based solely on Hawkins’ trust of the new UA staff. (He hasn’t visited Tuscaloosa yet.) With the loss of Donta Hall, Hawkins could clearly fill a position of need.
With the Hawkins commitment, here is a look at the numbers situation Oats will have to balance for UA:
Alabama had 13 players, the NCAA limit, receiving scholarships last season. Three of those players have exhausted their eligibility — Hall, guard Avery Johnson Jr. and forward Riley Norris, finally leaving after completing a master’s degree, a Ph. D., two years as a teaching assistant and ultimately becoming the first college player to score 100 points, grab 50 rebounds and earn tenure in the same season. (Actually, it was just the master’s degree — but it will be strange not to see Norris in an Alabama uniform next year.)
Those departures left 10 players in the mix. Two of those, guard Dazon Ingram and center Daniel Giddens, went through Senior Day and have entered the NCAA transfer portal. Both would be immediately eligible at another school. They could also, if they chose, remain at Alabama if Oats is willing and the numbers allow. The numbers might not allow. Oats might be willing, although he indicated at his introductory press conference that there were no guarantees of that. Without speaking for the head coach, let’s assume that both players elect not to return to Tuscaloosa even though no one has yet been deleted from the roster on Alabama’s official website, where Oats is now listed as head coach.
With two players looking at grad transfer options, that leaves eight players in the accounting. Two freshmen sat out last season as redshirts: 6-foot-9, 268-pound post player Javian Davis-Fleming and 6-4 guard Diante Wood of Anniston. Then there are the six players who could form the core of the 2020 roster, listed in order of 2019 playing time: Kira Lewis, John Petty, Herbert Jones, Tevin Mack, Galin Smith and Alex Reese.
There is no mystery about why Oats began the re-courtship of Lewis, who is currently in the transfer portal, almost immediately. First is the ability level of the Freshman All-SEC standout. The second is the absence of any other real point guard on the roster. With Lewis, finding a backup will be a challenge. Without him, finding anyone who can play the point (unless Ingram returns and even that is problematic) becomes the most urgent need of all.
Lewis has not announced a final decision on whether to stay or transfer. Following Alabama’s NIT loss to Norfolk State, Lewis — one of the players assigned to speak to the media, which says volumes about his maturity — seemed as frustrated and dispirited as any player I’ve covered in years. Since then, he has at least listened to Oats, perhaps pondering how he would fit into a fast-paced offense that seems well-suited for his talents. There has been no final decision from the Lewis family, but Oats keeps on trying.
Then there are three signees — forward Juwan Gary, swingman Jaylen Forbes and guard Jaden Shackelford. Forbes has publicly reaffirmed his commitment. Gary and Shackelford haven’t said anything publicly although Oats said on a Thursday radio appearance that he had “positive” communication with them. If all three stick with Alabama, and Hawkins comes as well, that is a total of 12. The state’s No. 1 recruit, Trendon Watford, will sign on April 20. Oats is working that recruitment as well, so much so that Watford’s father, Ernest, told basketball recruiting analyst Adam Zagoria that Oats was flying to Destin on Sunday to meet with the Watfords on spring break. One word to someone who has been in Buffalo for several years: sunscreen.
There are other offers on the table, perhaps other shuffling to be done. But Oats is clearly putting in plenty of overtime.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.