TUSCALOOSA — Nate Oats understood coming to a prominent Power-5 program like Alabama might involve dealing with a few more slings and arrows than he did at Buffalo.
Now, near the end of an admittedly frustrating first season at The Capstone, so too does his family.
While the Crimson Tide (16-15, 8-10 SEC) has struggled through an injury-plagued roller-coaster year, including a late-season swoon that has knocked it completely out of NCAA Tournament consideration, the 45-year-old Oats is more than aware of some of the outlying criticism he and his program have taken of late, especially following some of Alabama’s most recent losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri.
“We’re at Alabama now, there’s a big fan base, so I think, again, the people that I talk to that are at the games, they seem pretty happy where with this thing’s going,” Oats said Tuesday. “But nobody’s happy with the results we’ve had the last two games, (and) I’m as irritated and frustrated as anybody. So, for the fans to be frustrated is one thing, but for them to say what they said, whoever the irresponsible fans were, it is what it is.”
Amid occasional Twitter critiques of how the Crimson Tide players have been performing on the court, there arose a contrived narrative that Oats and his family were unhappy in Tuscaloosa, which prompted Oats’ 15-year-old daughter Alexandra to come to her family’s defense Sunday night on Twitter while on her way back to town following a travel volleyball tournament in Louisville.
“for everyone saying that you’ve heard various things such as that my family hates it here, etc…,” Alexandra Oats posted to her personal account Sunday evening. “i can speak on behalf of MY family and say we love it here and we love the people of Tuscaloosa and we all love The University of Alabama and the opportunities that go along with it.”
The tweet quickly caught the attention of loyal Alabama fans that immediately came out in support of Alexandra, her family and the job her father has done in less than a year in Tuscaloosa, receiving more than 3,200 likes and over 250 replies as of Tuesday afternoon.
And while social media posts of any kind weren’t something he likely expected to deal with ahead of the Crimson Tide’s appearance in the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week in Nashville, Oats said certainly appreciated the overall message his daughter presented, even if it was ill-advised.
“I thought her actual tweet was good, we do love it here — my wife loves it here, my kids love it here,” Oats said. “Shoot, it’s up in the 70s today, my (other) daughter was out doing cartwheels in the front lawn this weekend, (and) we didn’t get to do that where we were before (in Buffalo). We enjoy it here.
“So whoever happened to say that we don’t, they’ve got bad info, it’s an idiotic statement and shouldn’t have been made, and a 15-year-old girl (responded on social media),” he continued. “Shoot, I don’t mind if she sticks up for the family, but we also told her you’re going to have to ignore some idiots with your dad being in the job he’s at. Hopefully she ignores the idiots from now on.”
After ending the regular season with back-to-back “disappointing” losses to Vanderbilt and at Missouri, Oats and Alabama enter this week’s SEC Tournament looking to turn the page and start anew in Nashville, where the ninth-seeded Crimson Tide play No. 8 seed Tennessee (17-14, 9-9 SEC) at noon Thursday in the first game of the second day of tournament action inside Bridgestone Arena.
The winner of that game advances to play top-seeded Kentucky (25-6, 15-3 SEC), which has dispatched Alabama in each of the last four SEC Tournaments, in the first game of the quarterfinals at noon Friday.
“Now it’s just about getting back to playing as good of basketball as we can get,” Oats said. “Obviously the last two games were not our best basketball. … But you’ve kind of got to flush that one, let’s move on. There’s been plenty of people that’s lost their last game or two, went into their conference tournament, played well and got it back together.”
The Tide has effectively limped into the postseason after watching once-promising NCAA Tournament hopes dwindle away after dropping eight of its last 12 regular-season games, including a 69-68 home loss to the Volunteers on Feb. 4 amid a three-game losing streak in the heart of conference play last month.
But what has bothered fans — and the Alabama coaching staff, Oats especially — the most is how the team has seemingly disappeared both offensively and defensively at critical times in games this season, including late in its last two losses.
Over the final 6 minutes of the past two games, Alabama has been outscored 39-14 with the opposition shooting a combined 13-of-17 (76.5%) from the field while the Tide has combined to make just 2-of-17 (11.8%) during that same time span.
“I mean, it is frustrating. The last two losses have really been frustrating because I felt like if we’d have gotten the effort that we feel like we need, it probably doesn’t end up the way it ended up,” Oats said. “It’s a work-in-progress, we knew it’d be a work-in-progress when we started (at Alabama). We’ve made some really good progress throughout the course of the year and then whether it’s injuries or the length of the season, guys getting fatigued or whatever it is, we haven’t played as well lately as we did there for a minute.”
Of course, as Oats said, that progress is still on-going as the former high school coach from Detroit continues to overhaul a stagnant culture that’s kept the Crimson Tide as a middling SEC team that struggles to make the NCAA Tournament year-in and year-out.
But unlike his eldest daughter, Oats’ players have done their best to avoid any outside negativity that might be out there on social media, and hope to go into this week’s SEC Tournament with an improved frame of mind than it may have held last week.
“We don’t look at stuff after the game, we just stay locked in,” All-SEC freshman guard Jaden Shackelford said Tuesday. “People are going to say what they’re going to say, but we’ve just got to trust and believe in ourselves and our program and credit to Coach (Oats), he’s going to get us right and change the culture (around here).”