TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama welcomed defenseman Nimari Burnett in its final game against Missouri. Burnett had missed nine games with a wrist injury and played five minutes during the Crimson Tide’s road win against the Tigers, giving Nate Oats a full roster to work with.
Before his injury, Burnett started in the first nine games of the 2022-23 season, averaging 7.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest. While Burnett is still returning to his full strength, his minutes are expected to increase over the next few games, but if he’s back at 100 per cent will he return to the starting lineup? Oats was asked this question on Tuesday.
“I thought he looked pretty good in practice today‘ said Hafer. “He wasn’t out as long as he was the first time all year when he ruptured his knee or was out for the JQ, but it was still long enough to be a bit off-beat. We’re trying to get him as many practice replays as possible, and we’re going to get him as many game replays as possible. And I think once we feel like he’s back at 100 percent.
“A lot of your skill is disappearing quickly – your shooting, your dribbling. He just needs to feel good again. If the wrist is at 100 percent, that doesn’t necessarily mean his skills are back at 100 percent. And the only way he can really achieve that is by doing a lot of live reps in practice and spending some time out of practice. He’s one of the hardest working kids on the team so I’m sure he does.
“If we feel like he’s 100 per cent back, that’s when we have to evaluate it. We’ve won a lot of games with the line-up we have, so it’s going to be hard to mess with. But a lot of the time those things sort themselves out as you play through the season.”
With Burnett back on the ground, all of Alabama’s remaining grantees are available for game minutes before Tide’s upcoming matchup against Mississippi State (Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. CT). But that also means that 11 boys are now fighting for playing time.
Five players – Jaden Bradley, Mark Sears, Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney and Charles Bediako – from UA in the starting XI – average over 20 minutes per game, while nine players see more than 15 minutes per game. The only two who aren’t are guard Dom Welch (10.7) and forward Nick Pringle (7.7). But according to Oats, both players are making progress.
Alabama has won its last eight games and is currently ranked #2 in both national polls. One of the ways the Crimson Tide has avoided complacency during their winning streak has been the depth of the team, Oats said. But how does the fourth-year head coach create depth now that he has 11 players to choose from for the final push? “It’s hard,” he admitted.
“It would be nice to just have a nice tight 8-man rotation,” Oats said. “We didn’t have that, and it’s probably a good thing because Nimari started, went out and we kept winning games. Different games, I think different guys need to level up.
“Look at these wings – Dom, Nimari, Rylan – they all play hard. Some of them struggle with shooting more than others. But if they all shot at once, I don’t know where you’re going. It might be one of those games where you find out if you need a little more rebounds, a little more defense, a little more shooting. What you need on the floor at the time, you have to do with it.
“I think there’s a core group of guys who are going to play pretty important minutes. … We just have to keep the attitude of the boys up. I think the win helps with that. It’s a lot easier not to play that many minutes when you’re No. 2 in the country. Last year some guys didn’t play very many minutes and we didn’t get rated. That’s a little harder to sell. I think if we can keep winning and the guys play hard and get better – that’s the other thing too.
“Rylan is just a freshman. Maybe he doesn’t get more than 20 minutes but he’s definitely getting better and he’ll be really good for us in the future. He’ll be a heavy rotation guy. Some of these guys just need to see themselves get better. Pringle is one, he gets better and better in training every day.
“I think some of these guys are mature enough to understand that they might not get many minutes of play but their own individual game is getting a lot better and they are needed in this program – some this year and definitely in the future. And I think they’re happy when they get better individually.”
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