Alabama head coach Nate Oats spoke to reporters at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook, Ala., on Wednesday as part of SEC Basketball Media Days. Below is a full transcript of everything Oats said about his 2022-23 Crimson Tide team in his time behind the podium.
“It’s good to be here, it’s good to be back. It’s the first Media Days since my first year, so things are looking like they’re back to normal, which is great. We’re looking forward to the year.
“We’ve got a good, young group. We’ve got a lot of new faces. We’ve got 12 kids on scholarship, only four of them have ever played a game for Alabama before and Quinerly’s out ‘till maybe SEC play, sometime in December, with an ACL. So we’ll have three guys that have ever played a game for us suit for our first game, that’s Darius, Charles and Noah. That means we’ve got new eight new faces – four freshmen, the other ones are all transfers.
“We need a lot of production out of the new faces, so I think you’ll see some, at the beginning of the year, there may be some games we’re a little inconsistent. I think we’ve got a lot of room for growth, and we’re looking to try to be peaking at the end of the year. So we may go through a few growing pains early. We’ve got a tough non-conference schedule to get us ready. But we’re looking forward to it.”
On how he’s seen the team grow since the foreign tour, what he got out of the TCU scrimmage…
“Since the trip, we’ve been able to do a lot more. We got a headstart being the 10 practices in the summer and the games over there, but we’ve been able to put a little bit more in. I think certain guys that maybe didn’t play as well as they thought on the trip have been a little more motivated, they’ve been in more. So we’ve been working.
“The scrimmage with TCU, I believe they’ve got the most production back of any high-major team in the country. So they had a couple sixth-year guys and a lot of real veteran guys. We had a lot of young guys. Charles and Nimari had some minor injuries, so we held them out of that scrimmage. They’ll be fine, though. So when you took those two out and Quinerly out, there’s three guys that potentially could be starters that didn’t play, so we’re playing a lot of really young players, and I think it was a welcome to high-major basketball from some veteran guys.
“The first half was a little rough, and then the second half, we played a lot better. Brandon Miller was really good in the second half. But that’s why we do it. We strategically schedule who we schedule, and I think we did it for a reason. I want our guys to play against tough teams, whether it’s the non-conference, the preseason scrimmage and all that. We’ll be better for it, though. It was good for us.”
On if being picked to finish fifth in the SEC is a fair assessment with so many new faces…
“I did happen to see that on the drive down here today. It doesn’t really matter what they put you at preseason, it matters what happens once the games start playing. I think our potential is there to be one of the best teams in the SEC and challenge for a title. Now, potential doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t get any production out of it once you start playing games. We’re excited about our team, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. I do think you’ll see a lot of growth from us, non-conference up until conference, just because of our youth and inexperience. I think a lot of those freshmen will get a lot better more so than a guy that’s played four or five years.
“Shoot, with the COVID deal now you’ve got kids playing their fifth year. We’ve got one of them, Dom Welch, and guys that are in their sixth year, if they had a redshirt year and with the COVID year, they’re in their sixth year of college basketball. There’s just a lot of veteran guys out there, and I think you’ll see a lot more growth with some of the freshmen who haven’t played college basketball before. So hopefully that happens for us.”
On players responding to “if you’re not going to guard, you’re not going to play” mentality…
“I think that they’ve got it up here (points to temple). We need to see it being fleshed out on the floor. TCU was the first time we’ve played somebody else, and we’ve got some work to do on that end. TCU put a little pressure on our young guys on the defensive end, some guys need to take some more individual pride in their individual defense. But in practice, I think our guys are playing hard against each other.
“I think they know it. I think the biggest way they’ll see it is the first game when we’ve got plenty of guys healthy and minutes are distributed accordingly. If you can’t guard and you’re not gonna guard, your minutes are not gonna be what you’d like them to be. I think that’s the first time they’ll really be able to see, but I think guys are working to try to make themselves better defenders in practice right now.”
On if returning players have chips on their shoulders after last season…
“They should have a big chip on their shoulder. We proved we could play with the best in the country. We played three of the previous year’s Final Four teams and went 3-0, beat Gonzaga, Baylor and Houston. But we had some inconsistencies about us. We had some injuries late in the year. Obviously, Quinerly blowing his knee out less than three minutes into the first round of the NCAA Tournament game didn’t help anything. But even before that, we weren’t playing our best basketball come March, which that was my seventh year as a Division I head coach and typically most of my teams have been peaking at the end. We won three out of four MAC Tournaments and we won the SEC Tournament, the only one that we were able to play in our second year up until last year. But we definitely were not playing our best basketball.
“So that’s definitely one of our goals is to try to be peaking at the right time this year. Let’s not peak in December or January. So we’ve gotta be strategic with how we manage player loads, all that, practice and all that. But a lot of it’s more mental. Just like you said, having a chip on your shoulder and wanting to prove something. We really only have four guys that have played a game here before, and I think they all have something to prove. Quinerly was the only one that played significant minutes on the team that won the SEC Championship, and he kind of went out on an injury. Now, he’s got something to prove to prove that he can get back to the same place he was before his injury. We’ve got a lot to prove this year.”
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On how the chemistry is coming together with a new-look team…
“I think we’ve got a really good group of guys. I think they really wanna see each other do well. I like the chemistry. Now, we haven’t had to play many games where guys don’t get the minutes or shots or whatever that maybe they envisioned, so it’s a lot easier to have great chemistry in the middle of October than it is the middle of February, January. But so far, I think they’re good.
“Go on the foreign trip, they hung out a lot. You see guys wanting to spend time with each other. You see them in the gym together on their own. Like when it’s not required stuff, they’re getting in there with each other. So I like our group. I like the chemistry. I think we’ve got good guys that way, and hopefully, it continues throughout the year when times get a lot tougher and guys personally face some adversity, whether it’s an injury or not playing that much. Can they still continue to cheer their teammates on when they personally aren’t getting as much done this year as maybe what they would have thought.”