Is Nate Oats the best roster-builder in college basketball?

Alabama head coach Nate Oats celebrates a play against Connecticut during the Final Four semifinal game at State Farm Stadium.
Alabama head coach Nate Oats celebrates a play against Connecticut during the Final Four semifinal game at State Farm Stadium. / Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY

Alabama Basketball has taken flight under Coach Nate Oats. Oats has proven himself as an on-court coach, taking an analytics-based approach and implementing a fast-paced, highly efficient brand of basketball. 

However, his off-court exploits may be even more impressive.

Coach Oats’ recruiting and roster-building has been second to none during his time in Tuscaloosa. He repeatedly finds transfer portal gems, usually mid-major stars that find a way to fit into Bama’s system. He also pursues top talent from the high school ranks, landing 5-stars fairly regularly and 4-stars like clockwork.

Some, like JD Davison, Brandon Miller, and Noah Clowney, prove to be one-and-done talents and head to the NBA after their freshman seasons. When those highly-touted freshmen require a little more development, Oats is able to convince them to stick around. Forward Jarin Stevenson, the latest example of this phenomenon, is a former 5-star recruit who is coming back to school to very likely play a role off the bench.

Very few schools are able to manage highly talented rosters as effectively as Coach Oats. 

Recruiting wins games, roster building wins championships 

Talent acquisition and roster building are two very different things, and Nate Oats excels at both.

The former is the ability to stack as much talent as possible on a roster, which doesn’t always work out well. Just in the last year or two, we have seen several schools who were supremely talented on paper and didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament (2023 North Carolina, 2024 Miami, 2024 Arkansas, etc). This goes to show that the fit is just as important as the talent, and the Alabama coaching staff understands that. 

Coach Oats doesn't just acquire talent, he builds rosters, and he does it masterfully. He has been remarkably effective at combining good college basketball players with legitimate pro prospects when assembling his rosters at Alabama. This fine balance is the formula to winning at the collegiate level, and Coach Oats is one of just a few who have figured it out. 

Just consider his last couple teams: The 2022-23 squad was led by lottery pick Brandon Miller and another first-rounder in Noah Clowney, but it was supplemented by several very good college players such as Mark Sears, Jahvon Quinerly, Rylan Griffen, Charles Bediako, and Jaden Bradley. Conversely, Bama’s 2023-24 team wasn’t quite as good for most of the year, likely because it was missing that top-end NBA talent. 

Heading into 2024-25, Oats has built a roster that looks much more similar to the team he had two years ago. While Derrion Reid and Aiden Sherrell won’t be the stars of the team, it’s pretty easy to see that they are future NBA players. Similarly, sophomore forward Jarin Stevenson figures to come off the bench for the Crimson Tide this season. He is the prototypical prospect who won’t stay in college very long and will probably be better in the NBA than he ever was in college. 

Even with this pro talent in the fold, Alabama will be led by a great college basketball player in All-American guard Mark Sears and several very good college basketball players such as Grant Nelson, Cliff Omoruyi, Latrell Wrightsell, and Chris Youngblood. While these players might not have the highest NBA ceilings, they are fundamental pieces to winning at the college level. 

With Coach Oats leading the way, this 2024-25 Alabama team is built for the long haul. A massive part of coaching college basketball is assembling a competitive and well-balanced roster, and Oats is one of the best at this particular skill.

I can’t give him the crown over a legend like Bill Self or two-time reigning national champ Dan Hurley just yet, but Oats also doesn't have a giant basketball brand or a cathedral of hoops tradition behind him.

He has built multiple championship-caliber teams at a university that is still considered a football school, and now he appears to have his best team yet. If he's not at the top, Oats is right in that conversation with the best roster-builders in college basketball. Look out, because he's just getting started.