After many years of roster continuity, UAB basketball is now faced with the daunting challenge of replacing key experienced pieces in a rising conference.
We knew Chris Cokley and William Lee would be gone. We’ve even known for months that reserve guard Deion Lavender and deep bench reserve Thomas Smallwood were gone as well. But I’d dare say no one expected sophomore guard Nate Darling, who started all but one game last season, would opt to transfer going into his junior season.
The message boards, Twitter, and the mill of rumors have been spewing out their takes and theories on why Darling would leave after seemingly cementing himself as a key piece in the rotation going forward. Without me personally having any inside information, I can only assume that the head coach and staff found themselves suffering a team identity crisis following this past season and something had to change. Did Nate get pushed out or did he walk on his own? Who knows for sure, but I’d bet all parties involved haven’t lost any sleep following the announcement of his transfer.
Maybe the coaching staff looked themselves in the mirror and asked, “What will our team identity be going forward — a team who looks to its offense to overcome it’s defensive short comings?” That didn’t work out so well last season despite some prolific offensive statistics at various points. Or, have they decided they’ll strive to be a team who will set the tone defensively and let the offense develop organically from their dictation of style of play and pace. All I’ll say is look no further than Loyola Chicago’s recent run. Defense and guard play win championships and we’ve sorely lacked in both departments the past two seasons. Something had to give, and now it appears changes are being made.
Maybe the better question is, “Is this it?” as far as our current roster shake-up goes. Again, the rumors have been flying and I can’t confirm anything, but in my opinion it ain’t over yet. Our current recruiting activity is painting a picture of a sense of urgency at the guard position — specifically at point guard*.
* Updated 11:08 AM 4/2
With Tavin Lovan’s recent commitment and Ryan Boyce expected to be an immediate contributor next season, on paper the wing position will be young but full of talent and a very high ceiling. Let’s not forget Jalen Perry isn’t going anywhere either. And who knows, Luis Hurtado may blossom, but I wouldn’t put much stock in that.
Between now and signing day I’d watch for an aggressive push for an immediately serviceable point guard, and I think the search won’t take them too far either. Rob Ehsan and staff have shown they can be bulldogs on the recruiting trail when it comes time to close and they may be needing someone to run the show who has experience immediately.
A Look at Next Season’s Roster
For the sake of conversation, let’s say incoming forwards Tamell Pearson and Jude Akabueze will be more of work-in-progress type players rather than instant impact pieces like Zack Bryant was for UAB last season. I would love to be wrong in that assumption, but let’s go with that prediction for now. That leaves UAB with Gueye and Sullivan as the lone core experienced frontcourt pieces — that’s a far cry from Cokley and Haha.
In a perfect world we get fortunate and round-up another piece preferably with some girth and experience. With two open scholarships as it stands today, one would expect the staff is in pursuit of a JUCO or grad transfer forward who they can sell immediate and significant playing time. But with the initial signing day coming up on April 17, they’ll need to be moving quickly.
With so many unknowns and potential movement left in our current roster, it should yield a very interesting April. About the only thing we know for sure is that UAB basketball is going to look very different next season. Hopefully it’ll be a refreshing makeover and not a botched face-lift. Only time will tell.