BASKETBALL

Why Alabama basketball, Nate Oats need shot hunters if it's going to reach 2022-23 goals

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The Alabama basketball team that faced Southern Illinois in a late October exhibition was darn near unrecognizable.

The starters announced to the Foster Auditorium crowd were almost completely different from the group with whom the Crimson Tide ended the 2021-22 season. Mark Sears, Dom Welch, Noah Clowney and Brandon Miller, all newcomers, filled four of the five spots. The only returner among that group was Noah Gurley. Charles Bediako, Darius Miles and Jahvon Quinerly are the only other returners from last season, but they all missed the scrimmage with injuries.

The Crimson Tide had a completely new look with a near completely new squad, but there was one element that was all-too-familiar from a season ago.

This group of Alabama newbies went 3-for-22 from beyond the arc. That’s a startling 13.6%.

It’s an exhibition before the season has even started, so it makes sense that there could be some rust. Still, it provided reminders of a team from a year ago that was in the bottom half of the SEC in 3-point shooting at 30.9%.

It’s not as simple as the ball either falling through the net or not. There’s a mindset shift that needs to happen for the Crimson Tide to hit more 3-pointers.

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As No. 20 Alabama prepares to open the season against Longwood on Monday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network+) at Coleman Coliseum, it’s the shooting mindset that could make or break the team this season.

“I want them taking good shots,” coach Nate Oats said. “I want them knowing that anytime they’re open, I expect them to shoot it. They shouldn’t be looking to the bench. They’ve got the green light to shoot it. I want them hunting shots.”

Alabama was intentional with how it recruited and added talent via the transfer portal this season. Being able to make threes wasn’t the only prerequisite, but it was a big one.

Having players who can shoot well from deep is crucial for the system Oats runs.

So Alabama went and added players in the portal such as Ohio's Sears and St. Bonaventure's Welch. Sears went 40.8% from deep last season while Welch hit 37.4% from beyond the arc last season.   

Plus, the Crimson Tide added the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class per the 247Sports Composite.

“Sears and Dom Welch, Nimari Burnett, Rylan Griffen, those guys should be hunting shots,” Oats said, “trying to find ways to get more of them off when they’re open. I think figuring out how they’re going to get them in our offense then working on those shots in their individual shooting sessions, which we’ve got guys out there shooting right now.”

Oats said Sears and Burnett shot “really well” in practice Friday. Per Oats, Sears went 4-for-8 and Burnett was 8-for-13 in live five-on-five action in practice.

Practice is where the foundation is placed, but it only matters how the players shoot in games. Confidence in knowing which shots to take and when to take them will be key in those scenarios.

“Don’t pass up the open ones,” Sears said. “I think we did that during the exhibition game Saturday. When we didn’t take them, we would kind of take the second one and that would be contested. So really just take the open ones we have.”

Griffen took five shots from beyond the arc against Southern Illinois, making two. He said Friday that he took some bad shots. Oats didn’t respond poorly to Griffen trying to take those shots, though.

“He’s not going to say anything in the game really because he doesn’t want you to pass up any shots,” Griffen said. “That’s what I like about him as a coach. Confidence.”

Oats is showing confidence because he needs the same from his players.

For this Alabama team to succeed, he needs them to be shot hunters.