It’s been a while since Coleman Coliseum finished a season with naked rims.
After beating Auburn 70-58 on Tuesday night, the nylon was distributed among just about everyone connected with the Alabama basketball program. Even Nate Oats’ youngest daughter had some in the seats after both nets were clipped from the rims to celebrate Alabama’s first SEC regular-season title since 2002.
It was an emotional moment for the seniors who’ve been through the highs of an NCAA tournament win as freshman to an ugly NIT loss and coaching change a year later. Oats said he saw tears in Alex Reese’s eyes as they celebrated with the few thousand allowed in the arena for the final home game of the season.
Fan favorite Herbert Jones had all kinds of thoughts in his mind as he snipped his piece.
“It took me back to the days, the tough losses on the road or at home,” Jones said. “Getting picked to the NIT, all of that was just going through my head cutting down the nets and knowing we deserve to cut down those nets. The work we put in, all of that was going through my head.”
Just two years ago, an ugly 80-79 NIT loss to Norfolk State on the same floor created an ugly scene. Fans booed coach Avery Johnson as he exited for what turned out to be the final time.
Stars like John Petty had to be convinced to return after Oats took over. The Huntsville product face another crossroad after last season when the NBA Draft was an option. Ultimately, he came back to Alabama for what’s been a dream season in Tuscaloosa.
“I thank God every day that I wake up that I made this decision because in my heart and in my mind, this is the most right decision that I’ve made in my life,” Petty said Tuesday night. “Everything that we went through this year and still going through, all the wins, ups and downs, I don’t regret it at all. This has been the best four years of my life just with everything — maturity and everything — cutting those nets down, it just all went through me.”
Alabama (20-6) has one more regular-season game at Georgia before entering postseason play. Oats said he’ll give the team a full day off Wednesday before getting to work on the 1 p.m. CT Saturday tip in Athens because it’s been a grind the last few weeks.
He knows how special this moment is for a program that’s struggled through mediocrity for more than a decade. Oats deflected the spotlight to his players because he plans on coaching for another 20-25 years and doesn’t plan on this being the last net he’ll clip.
“They only get one chance at this thing,” Oats said with one of the nets on the table at his side. “I’m just really, really happy to see the excitement, the joy and everything on their face. I can see how emotional Reese was and I was happy for him.”
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