The Leadership Factor
Who will Coach Oats count on to lead on the court?
Alabama Basketball fans have discussed what went wrong last season ad-nauseam. Many have pointed out the teams lack of effort in crucial situations or lack of ball handlers that led to backbreaking turnovers. One vital intangible that was missing the most, however, was a blatant absence of leadership both on the court and amongst the staff on the bench. Coach Johnson had feared the former early on in the season, when he was lamenting the early loss of 5th year senior Riley Norris, due to injury. Norris would return later in the season and would lead the Tide to a couple of important wins that might’ve gone the other way had he not been there. One particular instance that comes to mind is the game at Vanderbilt. Alabama’s comfortable lead had dwindled late in the second half until Norris managed to knock down a pair of gutsy shots and “air-guitar” the Commodore faithful right out of Memorial Gymnasium.
Unfortunately, the season was plagued by too many instances in which things didn’t happen the way they happened in Nashville. If Alabama had adequate leadership on the court does Georgia State erase a 22 point deficit and hit a buzzer beater in Coleman Coliseum? Does the Tide D give up layup after layup and allow Texas A&M to be close enough for TJ Stark’s prayer to be answered as time expires? Does the team come out and look as lackadaisical as Alabama did when Florida came into Coleman Coliseum and dominated the Tide in a season defining contest? Similar questions weighed on fans when Alabama’s name wasn’t called on Selection Sunday.
Enter the Nate Oats era. Some changes have already been implemented to prevent late game collapses as well as develop leadership on the court. The addition of strength and conditioning coach, Mike Snowden, is already paying dividends as the team seems to be leaner and more durable than last season. Fatigue should not be an issue as games come to a close. Secondly, the addition of Dr. Arnie Guin to the coaching staff should lead to a new level of mental fortitude for the program. Guin is a former pastor and a registered psychotherapist. He is expected to be a vital member of the staff as the Director of Player Development.
Staff additions are a great start but who can Coach Oats count on to be a leader on the court after the practice whistle blows and when the ball is tipped? Riley Norris may have exhausted all of his eligibility but there are men amongst the Tide that are capable of running with the opportunity.
John has shown flashes of greatness as a member of the Tide. Though his shot has had times of inconsistency, his all around game began to resemble the same one that once dominated area high school games a few years back. How good could Alabama be if it gets the John Petty that put the team on his back in Knoxville and shot the ball with confidence, rebounded, defended relentlessly and was one egregious travel call away from potentially stealing a win against a top ranked opponent?
Kira Lewis Jr
Though a 17 year old, Lewis became Alabama’s go to guy in late game situations-particularly in the non-conference. Kira managed to close more than a few games with some big shots, but when it came time to send someone to the line...Alabama preferred it to be Lewis. The Arizona game comes to mind in particular. The Wildcats had fought back and had the Tide on the ropes until Lewis buried a clutch jumper to extinguish the Wildcats’ momentum and proceeded to help ice the game away at the stripe in the closing seconds. His play evened out as the conference schedule kicked in. Likely due to fatigue from averaging more minutes than his shortened high school career ever provided but, he seemed to catch a second wind of sorts in the final few games. Kira may not ever be a “vocal” leader per-se but, he is plenty capable of leading by example.
As a fifth year transfer from West Virginia, Bolden certainly doesn’t lack experience. It’s a very likely reason that Coach Oats and staff chose to pursue him when he announced his plans to finish his last season of eligibility away from the Bob Huggins led Mountaineers. He’s dealing with lingering injury issues but, Bolden has been shooting the ball really well since he arrived in Tuscaloosa. As one of the primary ball handlers and the elder statesman of the team, Beetle could very well be an extension of Coach Oats on the floor when the season starts.
A more and more common phenomenon in this era of the “one and done.” Freshmen can certainly lead a team to success. Alabama is only two seasons removed from Collin Sexton leading them to the NCAA tournament and one win away from the Sweet 16. Early analysis of the incoming freshmen shows promise. Young shooting guard Jaden Shackelford is a gym rat. He’s obsessed over improving his game and that should directly translate on the court.
Fellow freshman Juwan Gary also offers reason for optimism. He’s a scrappy player and a grinder. Very few will outwork Gary on the court. Expect to see him make some of the same “hard hat” type plays that Riley Norris became notorious for making during his career at Alabama.
Are there other members of the team that could step up as leaders during this upcoming season? Time will tell and we are now less than 100 days from beginning to find out