Alabama’s upcoming season will undoubtedly be less eventful than the last one.
The 24th-ranked Crimson Tide rode star freshman Brandon Miller through a wave of controversy all the way to the program’s best season, Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships and first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
The No. 2 overall NBA draft pick, Miller and fellow first-rounder Noah Clowney are gone from that 31-6 team, along with two other starters and key reserve Jahvon Quinerly. Coach Nate Oats replenished the roster with four transfers led by big man Grant Nelson and guard Aaron Estrada.
“I don’t know if we’ve got anybody that’s going to go No. 2 in the draft this year,” Oats said. “So it probably will be more by committee. We’ve got really good options.”
Miller and point guard Jaden Bradley -- who transferred to Arizona -- played much of the season under scrutiny over their presence at a fatal shooting near campus in January. Teammate Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder. Neither Miller nor Bradley were accused of a crime, but Miller especially couldn’t escape questions.
This team returns only three scholarship players, including the No. 2 scorer in guard Mark Sears. Sears stuck around while the team’s star freshmen and center Charles Bediako entered the draft. Bediako wasn’t picked.
The SEC's top scoring team had a disappointing finish, falling in the Sweet 16 to eventual Final Four team San Diego State.
“I feel like we can get past that hump and I want to be part of that,” Sears said.
Alabama brought in one of the top portal classes, and pretty much had to, given all the departures. The group is led by a pair of 20-point scorers in sharp-shooting guard Aaron Estrada from Hofstra and 6-foot-11 forward Grant Nelson from North Dakota State. Guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. averaged 16.3 points at Cal State Fullerton last season.
This is Estrada's fourth stop after a season at Oregon and Saint Peter's. Oats added another big man in West Virginia transfer Mohamed Wague.
“We got four transfers who are all going to contribute significantly,” the Tide coach said..
Losing Clowney did make Alabama a more attractive landing spot for another versatile big man. Jarin Stevenson, a 6-foot-11 forward, was rated the 50th-best high school prospect, according to 247Sports. Oats says he does have a similar style of play to Clowney, who averaged 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds.
“I anticipate him being a huge part of what we’re doing,” Oats said. “Just with a 6-10 athlete, moves well, can play on the perimeter and shoot it. He’s exactly what we’re looking for in the front court.”
He also signed high school forwards Sam Walters and Mouhamed Dioubate and guard Kris Parker.
Alabama is hoping for a big leap from Rylan Griffen, an oft-overlooked past of last year’s freshman class. The 6-foot-5 Griffen averaged 5.9 points and even grew an inch over the offseason. Nick Pringle was a backup forward who had some big moments last seaosn.
Even with accurate 3-point shooters like Miller and Quinerly gone, the Tide figures to launch high numbers of 3s. No Division I team attempted more than the Tide's 1,093 last season.
It backfired somewhat when the team went 3 of 27 from beyond the arc against San Diego State. Estrada was a 35% 3-point shooter in two seasons at Hofstra, making 131. Wrightsell hit 38% of his 3s last season. And even Nelson made 69 over three seasons at North Dakota State. Sears was second on the team behind Miller in 3-point shooting.
Alabama faces three tough nonconference opponents in a span of 11 days in December. It starts with No. 3 Purdue on Dec. 9, then No. 8 Creighton on Dec. 16 and No. 12 Arizona four days later. None of the games will be at home. Alabama opens against Morehead State on Nov. 6.
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