Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
One year after getting upset as No. 1 overall seed, Alabama’s Nate Oats has high expectations yet again
By ADAM ZAGORIAWHITE PLAINS, N.Y. –– One year after his team was upset as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Alabama coach Nate Oats believes he has another group capable of doing damage during March Madness.
“I like our roster a lot,” Oats told me after speaking at the NY Coaches Clinic at Archbishop Stepinac High School on Wednesday. “The staff chemistry’s been great, I think we got a really good staff. Some of our freshmen are looking really good, the transfers have been [good].”
After losing New Jersey native and point guard Jahvon Quinerly to the transfer portal (Memphis) and Charles Bediako to the NBA Draft, Oats hit the portal hard by adding Grant Nelson (17.9 PPG at North Dakota State), Aaron Estrada (20.2 PPG at Hofstra) and Latrell Wrightsell Jr. (16.3 PPG at Cal State Fullerton). They could join returners Mark Sears (12.5 PPG) and Nick Pringle (3.5 PPG) in the starting lineup. The Tide also added 6-10 reclassified forward Jarin Stevenson.
“Aaron is tough as can be, you can tell why he’s been the [Colonial Athletic Association] Conference Player of the Year twice,” Oats said of the New Jersey native. He’s got a great change of pace, he’s got a really good finishing package, he’s shooting the ball well, he’s got great leadership qualities.”
The 6-foot-11 Nelson chose Alabama after testing the NBA Draft waters and competing at the NBA Combine.
“He’s the biggest kid on the team, but he plays a guard,” Oats said. “He’s a 6-11 guard. We’re working on his shot, his shot’s getting better, that’s the big, huge point of emphasis, like he’s really gotta be able to shoot it but he’s strong, athletic. I mean, he comes down the middle of the lane trying to dunk on people.
“He’s going to be really good for us.”
Oats likes to tout the stat that Alabama has had more lottery picks in the last four years than any other school, and thinks Nelson has a shot to be the next one.
“I would think Grant with his size would be the one,” Oats said. “The other kid that’s a lot like [first-round pick] Noah Clowney is Jarin Stevenson, the freshman from Carolina. He’s 6-10, shoots it really well, can play on the perimeter, be a stretch four, a mismatch at the five.
“I mean, as soon as he started playing, our guys that were on the team last year were like, ‘Shoot, this kid’s just like Clowney.’ He may it shoot it a little bit better than Clowney but he’s got a chance, too.
“So we’ve got some guys that NBA teams will be coming in to look at for sure.”
Last year was a tough season in Tuscaloosa with the situation surrounding Brandon Miller and the murder of Jamea Jonae Harris in January near the school’s campus. That hung over the team heading into the postseason, where Miller was assigned an armed security guard due to death threats.
Alabama was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament but was upset by eventual NCAA runner-up San Diego State in the Sweet 16. Alabama’s elimination meant the No. 1 overall seed didn’t win the title for nine straight tournaments.
In four seasons at Alabama, Oats has been to two Sweet 16s but has not gone further.
This year, Alabama is ranked No. 22 in the ESPN preseason poll and will go as far as the transfers like Estrada and Nelson take them.
HITTING THE RECRUITING TRAIL
Oats had a busy day on the recruiting trail. He spoke at the NY Coaches Clinic at Stepinac, which features five-star point guard Boogie Fland.
Kentucky’s John Calipari and Indiana’s Mike Woodson, both of whom are also recruiting Fland, also spoke, while Woodson had a home visit with Fland Tuesday night. Fland will take an official to Alabama Sept. 22 and to Maryland Sept. 29.
Five schools appear to be focusing on him at this point: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Michigan.
Speaking generally about recruits from the New York/New Jersey area, Oats said, “They’re tough, they’ve played against competition. The moment doesn’t get too big for them….They’re used to playing competition every night.”
After the clinic, Oats hit the air to visit with the parents of five-star big man Aiden Sherrell in Atlanta. The 6-11 Sherrell, who attends Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif., was supposed to announce in August between Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan State, but postponed his decision. His Crystal Ball is currently at 100% for Alabama.
“After careful consideration, my family and I have decided to postpone my commitment,” he told On3 last month. “I want to take more time to ensure I’m making the right decision for my future. My family and I will continue to consider the 5 schools, and I’m certain I will arrive at the right decision for my career in the near future.”
Nates also flew to Florida and met with 6-9 five-star Montverde (FL) Academy forward Asa Newell.
“Coach Ryan Pannone, he came up here and he sends me a lot of clips on pros he studies and he has a really good basketball mind,” Newell told ZAGSBLOG in August. “And coach Nate Oats, he’s telling me that they’re the No. 1-paced team in college basketball and they did an amazing job with Brandon Miller.”Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterFollow ZAGSBLOGHoops on InstagramAnd Like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.