Photo Credit Rolltide.com
The Crimson Tide are rolling! Nate Oats won SEC Coach of the Year and was one of four finalists for the Naismith National Coach of the Year award in his second season with Alabama. Nick Saban is still the best coach in Tuskaloosa, but Oats is proving that he isn’t the only great one. Alabama replaced plenty of exciting players over the summer with quality talent. Here is a breakdown of what the Tide have to offer this year:
*Redshirt last year
Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech)
Noah Gurley (Furman)
G Jahvon Quinerly, 6’1 Jr.
G JD Davison, 6’3 Fr.
G Jaden Shackelford, 6’3 Jr.
F Noah Gurley, 6’8 Gr.
F Charles Bediako, 7’0 Fr.
G Keon Ellis, 6’6 Sr.
G Nimari Burnett, 6’4 So.
F Juwan Gary, 6’6 So.
F James Rojas, 6’8 Sr.
G Jusaun Holt, 6’6 Fr.
F Alex Tchikou, 6’11 Rs. Fr.
F Darius Miles, 6’6 So.
Fresh off their best season in 20 years, Alabama is hoping to ride the momentum they’ve built over the last few seasons to make it to the basketball promise land- an NCAA title.
The losses of Herb Jones, John Petty, Alex Reese, Joshua Primo and Jordan Bruner would set a program back years a decade ago. But we live in the age of basketball miracles and a good summer of recruiting can transform a team that lost in the first round of the NIT into a Final Four team (just ask Julius Randle and the 2014 Wildcats).
Alabama has had just about the best recruiting phase a team can have without breaking enough federal laws to warrant an FBI probe.
The Crimson Tide are bringing in their best freshman class since Avery Johnson reeled in the No. 8 class in 2018. This year’s class ranks No. 9 in the nation and is led by Alabama native JD Davison. Davison is the highest ranked recruit to pass through Tuskaloosa since Collin Sexton. Sexton is not a bad comparison for Davison’s game; both are speedy playmakers with budding shots and hustle on defense. Sexton was a bit better of a long range shooter coming into college. But, like Sexton, Davison relies more on his driving capabilities and midrange game than the three ball. Either way, a guy that drops 57 in his senior season debut is an offensive threat that should be highlighted on every scouting report.
Along with Davison, the Tide are bringing two 4-star talents in big man Charles Bediako and forward Jusaun Holt. Bediako is a 7’0 center out of IMG Academy who fell in the recruiting rankings over the last year. At his peak, Bediako was 247Sports’ No. 19 player in the nation and a 5-star recruit. He ended as the No. 34 player in his class, but still has the potential to contribute right away. Entering college, Bediako has tremendous length and enough prowess as a defender and rebounder that he should get playing time right away. If he can improve his offensive skill set and add some bulk, then Alabama will likely put another player into the NBA.
Holt is the perfect recruit for a Nate Oats system. He’s long at 6’6 and has a solid shot entering college. Given Alabama’s success developing shooters over the last few years, Holt may be a future star in Tuskaloosa. That being said, he isn’t ready to be the new Herb Jones on campus just yet. Holt will likely be a shooter off the bench with limited minutes this year.
Along with three top-100 recruits, Furman’s Noah Gurley and Texas Tech’s Nimari Burnett will be bringing their talents to Alabama this year. Gurley is the kind of scorer that will almost certainly succeed under Oats. He is a 6’8 forward that isn’t afraid to step outside and shoot the three ball. Last season, Gurley averaged 15.4 PPG and shot just under 34 percent on the year. Considering the high-level offense run at Alabama and the dangerous shooters at every spot on the floor, Gurley should see much better looks this year. When you add the playmaking of Bama’s backcourt to the equation, it’s not unreasonable to expect Gurley to be a 36-40 percent shooter from outside this year.
Burnett was a 4-star recruit last year but didn’t have the season he hoped for at Texas Tech. After playing six minutes against Kansas St in early January, Burnett announced he was leaving the program. The Chicago native’s struggles shooting the ball played a role in his decrease in minutes over the season. Burnett shot 28 percent from the field and just 17.4 percent from deep in his lone season in the Lone Star State. It will be interesting to see how an offense that values 3-pointers so much utilizes Burnett if his shot continues to fall flat. At the very least, expect Burnett to be a reliable playmaker off the bench.
As impressive as Alabama’s incoming talent is, it’s the returning players that should make this team one of the nation’s best. While the Tide did lose four of their top six scorers, they retained their top two in Jaden Shackelford and Jahvon Quinerly.
Shackelford scored 20 points or more six times last season and averaged 14 PPG. As impressive as he was last year, Shackelford didn’t take much of a step up from his freshman season. In fact, the junior guard averaged more points on better shooting in his freshman year than he did last year. With Quinerly and Davison in the backcourt with him this year, Shackleford should see enough looks to lead the team in scoring again. The question will be how efficiently he does it. Expect his shooting percentages to rise in his junior campaign.
Quinerly was a 5-star recruit for Villanova in 2018. After a freshman campaign where he saw an average of 9 minutes of play in 25 of Villanova’s 36 games, Quinerly announced he was leaving the program. The NCAA’s transfer rules forced Quinerly to sit out the 2019-20 season and it appears he used his time off wisely. The 6’1 guard was Alabama’s second leading scorer last season, averaging 12.9 PPG while shooting an impressive 43.3 percent from deep. Quinerly was named SEC Tournament MVP after averaging 15.67 PPG over three games. Should his shooting hold on for another season, Quinerly will be a dangerous weapon for the Tide.
Alabama should have a deep bench this year as well. Upperclassmen Keon Ellis and James Rojas are back for their senior seasons. Ellis is a big 6’6 guard whose value this year will likely be in his ability to lead a bench unit. Rojas steadily lost playing time throughout the season and may not get much of a chance to see the floor. At the very least, he is a big body with enough experience to guide some of the younger guys on the team.
Sophomore Juwan Gary is Alabama’s potential breakout player this year. Gary was more of a garbage time player early in the season but was able to find a role with the team by March. Gary averaged 3.17 PPG in 23 appearances during the regular season. He more than doubled that in the postseason, averaging 7 PPG along with 4.83 rebounds over six games. Those numbers won’t make or break the team, but even if Gary fails to take the next step and retains those stats in his sophomore season, he’ll be a valuable bench player.
The x-factor of this squad is Alex Tchikou. A torn Achilles kept Tchikou from playing last season, so he decided to red shirt instead of burning a year of eligibility. Originally from Paris, France, Tchikou was a 4-star, top 100 recruit in last year’s freshman class. Coming out of high school, he was known as an athletic big with a blooming shot. Given how much his game was aided by his athleticism, a torn Achilles will be a hard injury to come back from. Even in limited minutes, Tchikou’s long 6’11 frame will be enough to aid the team this season.
Alabama is coming off one of the best seasons in program history, but the loss of several key veteran players is a big setback. Even with an incredible offseason, the Tide will be facing an uphill battle in their quest to regain a spot in the top five.
PROJECTION: Top 15
Ceiling: Top 5
Floor: Top 25