Nate Oats has reason for optimism heading into his second season at Alabama.
The Crimson Tide bid to take the first step in what Oats expects to be a successful season Wednesday when they host Jacksonville State in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Optimism is elevated after Alabama was selected to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference preseason poll. Then again, the Crimson Tide were picked to end up sixth in last season's preseason poll and logged a ninth-place finish.
Although last season's leading scorer Kira Lewis Jr. (18.5 points per game, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals) was selected by New Orleans with the 13th overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, he was not accompanied by guard John Petty Jr. and forward Herb Jones.
Petty withdrew his name from the draft in August. He's intent on improving upon the team's 16-15 record in 2019-20. He was named to the All-SEC preseason first team after averaging 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per game.
Jones is looking to improve upon last season's injury-marred campaign, during which he dealt with an ailing elbow and wrist.
"I decided to come back and try to have a big year with the guys that were coming back with me and also the guys that were new," Jones said in October, per AL.com. "With the pieces that were coming in, I figured we would have a pretty good year."
Unfortunately for Alabama, promising forward Alex Tchikou underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn right Achilles and is lost for the season.
"It's really tough to see Alex go down for the season," Oats said of the 6-foot-11, 225-pound freshman. "Alex is someone who arrived in early August and had quickly established himself in the locker room. He has been a great fit with our program in terms of his work ethic and character."
Jacksonville State is looking to improve upon last season's 13-19 record and seventh-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Gamecocks will have a vastly different look, however, with senior forwards Kayne Henry and Martin Roub, junior center Maros Zeliznak and sophomore forward Juwan Perdue the lone returning members from last season's team.
Henry averaging 10.9 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds last season for Jacksonville State, which will features several new faces in the form of transfers and freshmen.
"I think the new guys have been good," Gamecocks coach Ray Harper said last month. "It's a process. Obviously, when you have this many new guys, there's a lot of teaching and showing them how we want to play. But it's been good so far."
--Field Level Media