TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama head coach Nate Oats has tried to have individual meetings with his players as often as possible this summer. In fact, he met with a few of them Thursday, on what was the Crimson Tide’s fourth day of practice for its upcoming European tour.
The feedback Oats has received thus far regarding the 2022-23 team has been positive.
“They all tell me that the chemistry’s great,” Oats told reporters on Friday afternoon. “The guys who are returning think it’s better than it was last year, and they think everybody’s really in it for the team this year. I hope that continues to be the case when you have to divvy up minutes because it’s easy to be all about the team when there’s no minutes or shots. Not everybody’s gonna play as much as they want.
“But I think as of right now, it’s a great group. They’re all working hard. They seem like they hang out more together off the court. Brandon Miller was telling me this is the closest team he’s ever been on, and he’s only been here for two months now, which is great to hear.”
Miller is one of seven new players added to Alabama’s basketball roster this summer – four true freshmen and three transfers. The Crimson Tide welcomed the nation’s No. 3 signing class, per the 247Sports Composite, as well as two players from the transfer portal, Mark Sears and Dom Welch. At Friday’s practice, only four players from last year’s team were on the court.
The 2021-22 Alabama team lost some key pieces and wasn’t able to replicate its success from Oats’ second season at the helm. It’s still very early – the Tide has only participated in five of the 10 allotted practices before a foreign tour – but this year’s squad is coming together nicely.
“It doesn’t really feel like a new team,” said Noah Gurley, a graduate student. “I know we’ve only been together a month and some change, but we’re just spending so much time together, whether it’s in the gym or working out as a group. I’d say the chemistry is going really well so far. Our chemistry is a little better than last year at this point.
Added sophomore center Charles Bediako, “Our chemistry has been good this year, especially because it is kind of like a whole new team with five returners and the rest of the guys are new. But it’s really impressive how quickly we actually all got to connect with each other.
“I’m really excited for this group of guys.”
All of this is encouraging, especially to Oats who routinely called for better effort from last year’s team. He was also displeased with the effort on the defensive end of the court at times a season ago. Has this group, in a handful of practices, defended more to his liking of him?
“We weren’t happy at all with the defense last year,” Oats said. “I think our guys realize – guys that have been here two years ago when we won the SEC regular season and tournament and last year – how much defense matters. Guys like Darius, Jahvon Quinerly. … Some days in practice are better than others. I think we’ve got a group that’s capable of being a great defensive team.
“Part of our problem last year was we liked to play four guards a lot. We didn’t have many options. Primo went out probably a year before we thought… then Nimari gets injured and we have four perimeter players in the rotation, that’s it. If we decided to play guards, those were your options for the most part. This year, I think we’ve got a lot more options. If you’re not gonna guard, you’re not gonna play, that’s just it.
“I think you see guys competing a little harder. Sears and Jaden Bradley both compete on the ball a lot harder than what we had last year. You’ve got some length out there. Last year, if we put four guards out, it’s Quinerly, JD, Shack and Keon Ellis a lot of times. Well, Keon Ellis is 6-4, 6-5, Shack’s 6-3, JD’s 6-3, Quinerly’s 6-2. That’s not that big in our league.
“Now, this year, you could put Noah Clowney at the four at 6-10 and Brandon Miller at the three at 6-8, 6-9. Nimari Burnett’s got a 6-10 wingspan, put him at the two or the three. Dom Welch is 6-5, 6-6 and can play the three. You put some legitimate size and have positional size all over the floor like we had the year before when we had Primo, Petty, Herb Jones, you had big wings, big guards that you could put on the floor.
“So we’ve got that this year. We’ve just gotta get them to really buy into playing hard every play, and I think we’re getting that this summer so far. Hopefully, it continues.”
Alabama will depart for Barcelona, Spain, on Friday, Aug. 5, and will play its first of three games Aug. 8 against the Spain Select Team (7 pm local time). The Tide will then play two games in Paris – Aug. 11 vs. the Lithuania Men’s B Team and Aug. 12 vs. the Chinese National Team (both games taking place at 7:30 pm local team) – before returning to Tuscaloosa on Aug. 14.
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