March 19th, 2019, Alabama lost their opening round NIT tournament game against Norfolk State, and the future of the Alabama basketball program was looking very bleak. Yes, they made NCAA Tournament the year before, and have had some talent in the program with Colin Sexton and Donta Hall. But the continued 18-15 record, 7-8 win seasons in the SEC and always living on the NCAA tournament bubble was becoming the norm and something needed to change. I really liked Anthony Grant and Avery Johnson, Avery was a great recruiter, but this team, this program belongs in the tournament discussion year in and year out.
March 24th, 2019, Avery Johnson met with Athletic Director Greg Byrne, and after a long discussion of where the program was heading, both agree to mutually part ways. The news broke and immediately rumors started flying on who would be the next coach, the biggest name was one Rick Petino, who I was firmly behind. He paid his dues, and his past coaching experience and success, I knew he would turn this program around. But Greg Byrne, being the great AD he is, had someone in mind that was completely under the radar that NOBODY expected.
March 27th, 2019, I’m not exactly sure the exact time, but I was scrolling Twitter and Byrne posted a picture with one Nathanael J. Oats. I was in shock, I didn’t know much about this man, but what I did know is that his team at Buffalo ran up and down the court, scored buckets at will, and made the NCAA Tournament several times under Oats. Byrne had his man, and maybe, just maybe, the program was saved.
Under Nate Oats his first year, the team finished 16-15, 8-10 overall in the SEC, and while the results were the same as the previous years, the style of play Nate Oats has brought has brought the excitement back into Coleman Coliseum, and the student section has been electric since Oats showed up. Alabama was needing to upset a few SEC teams, possibly even winning the SEC Tournament, in order to make the NCAA Tournament, but Covid-19 hit and shut down all sports immediately, and Oat’s first year come to an end.
Fast forward to this year, after losing games to Stanford, Clemson, and Western Kentucky, there were rumblings of this program is just cursed, and we were doomed with a 18-15 record for the rest of our lives. Then, Alabama broke out offensively, and racked up 10 straight wins, 6 of them in which the team won by 15+ points, and is ranked 9th nationally in the country, and have solidified themselves as a potent team for years to come under Nate Oats. As a previous article Stacey wrote on here, the time to pay Nate Oats is now, because his success turning the basketball program around, I can see the Blue Bloods calling him in a year or two.
March 27th, 2019, will always be remembered as the day Greg Byrne saved the Basketball Program.
Jake Thomas is the Co-Founder and VPO of TideTalkSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jakethomastide.
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