Oats era underway as men’s basketball begins practice


CW / Joe Will Field

Since Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats was hired in late March, he has been implementing one of the key components of his on-court philosophy: a fast, up-tempo offense.

While new coaches across college basketball have been using similar buzzwords to excite fans and describe the offense they want to install, Oats is one of the few that can show he will be able to follow through on his promise.

During his four seasons as the head coach at Buffalo, the Bulls ranked in the top 10 in number of transition possessions for three out of his four seasons, including the most in the country for the 2018-19 season. Oats also dropped Buffalo’s average possession length from over 17 seconds, which ranked 87th nationally, to just under 15 seconds, which ranked fourth in the country last season.

To implement his playing style at Alabama, Oats has added a competitive aspect to practice, with the assistant coaches, support staff and team managers involved as well.

“The way we do practice, if you win the game we play games to 8, or two stops, however, it is if you win, you go to the free-throw line and shoot a free throw,” Oats said. “If you make the free throw, it goes on the board for a win for the day. If you miss the free throw, you’ve got to do 10 push-ups. If you lose the game, you sprint down and back. So the coaches, if the kid misses the free throw, do 10 with the team. If the kid hits the free throw, they’ve been doing five.”

In order to get the players in shape to run his offense, Oats makes sure there is constant movement during practice. In the words of junior guard John Petty Jr. and junior forward Alex Reese, Oats’ workouts and practices are tough and competitive.

“It’s way more active,” Petty said. “The drills aren’t that long, but it’s just a lot of them, and they’re back-to-back-to-back. He just keeps the blood flowing, he keeps you loose, keeps you moving. It’s hard to just stand around out here.”

Reese added, “They are a little bit harder, but it comes with the pace of play that Coach Oats plays with. Everyone has gotten more used to it as it’s gone, but we are going to keep getting better with the same style.”

During Tuesday’s open practice, a makeshift 4-point line had been taped on the floor in order to space out the floor and for players to get accustomed to perimeter shooting. Sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. pointed out that another one of Oats’ demands is for everyone to have the ability to shoot.

“His spacing is incredible,” Lewis said. “He demands that everyone can shoot the ball and to get in the gym to work on it. The floor will be very spaced out, so we can attack, and if guys can shoot, we will make [opponents] pay.”

Spacing out the floor is a doable task with Alabama’s guard depth, Oats said. During his time at Buffalo, his starting lineups consisted of a combination of two point guards and a combo guard (player who acts as both a point guard and shooting guard) or a point guard and two combo guards. 

The coach compared junior Herbert Jones to former Buffalo star Jeremy Harris, a 6-foot-7 two-way guard who excelled at power forward despite what many would believe as playing out of position. Oats also said Reese and redshirt freshman forward Javian Davis are both skilled players on the perimeter who can play at center.

Oats showed at Buffalo that a small lineup does not compromise defense, as the Bulls ranked 31st in defensive efficiency during the 2018-19 season, according to KenPom.com.

“I would anticipate us playing a little bit smaller because we’ve got more depth at the guard spot,” Oats said. “You’ve got Beetle [graduate transfer guard James Bolden] cleared, you’ve got [freshman guard Jaden Shackelford], [freshman guard Jaylen Forbes], Kira, and also if [sophomore guard Javhon Quinerly] gets cleared, then if you bump down and play Herb and [Petty] down, then we’re playing a little smaller, which is the way I like to play, anyways, with more athleticism and speed and perimeter play on the floor. I would anticipate that kind of being the case, the way we play.” 

Fans will be able to get their first glimpse of the new-look Crimson Tide on Oct. 18 during Tide Tipoff at Coleman Coliseum.