“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” —Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
The morning of Jan. 15 did not start in typical fashion for Alabama basketball head Coach Nate Oats.
His typically Sunday morning routine consists of breakfast, then getting ready along with his wife and three daughters to head to church. After church comes preparing for the team’s next game, including film study, meetings with assistant coaches and then practice that afternoon.
For Oats, though, his Sunday was completely derailed by a phone call.
“I got a call Sunday morning that alerted me to what was going on, and I immediately called Greg [Byrne]and we started putting our plan in place together to handle situations like this,” Oats said.
Darius Miles, a junior forward for the Crimson Tide, had been arrested and charged with capital murder. Another man with no connection to Alabama, Michael Lynn Davis, was also charged and subsequently arrested. While details have arisen since that time that have provided more clarity of what happened in the situation, the feeling that Oats experienced in that moment will never change.
There are many things that a coach can never prepare for. Deaths of players and family members along with illnesses are some of the dealings that a Coach must prepare to handle, but will hope to never have to experience. Regardless of how much a coach can be prepared to handle a situation, it is always a shock.
For Oats, it was no different. A 23-year-old mother in Jamea Jonae Harris was dead, leaving behind her five-year-old son, Kaine. Regardless of how he handled the matter, those were the facts, cold and simple.
Miles was immediately removed from the team and expelled from the University of Alabama. Within hours, his player bio had been removed from the Crimson Tide’s website. All records of Miles having ever attended Alabama were seemingly wiped away.
But just because a person’s records are removed doesn’t mean that memories and pain go away. And for Oats, the handling of the situation had only just begun.
The typical team meeting was pushed back until Oats and his staff could provide solid answers to their players. At the meeting, the players opted to cancel that day’s practice — many of whom hadn’t slept since first learning of Miles’ arrest.
On Monday afternoon, Oats held his scheduled pregame press conference. Did he have to host the press conference? Well, and it would have been completely understandable had the Crimson Tide opted to skip that week’s meeting with the media. However, Oats took to the stand and delivered a message in the crowded media room to not just those present, but to fans and anyone out there grieving the situation.
“I’ve got three daughters,” Oats said. “It went through my mind how easily it could have been one of mine, tough situation. I talked to Darius’ mother multiple times yesterday— very hard situation on both accounts. We just continue to pray for Jamea and her family. I didn’t know them, but they’re certainly in our thoughts and prayers. And continuing to pray for Darius’ situation too.
“It’s just an unfortunate incident that I wish we weren’t having to deal with today.”
Thoughts and prayers. Those words have become associated with almost every tragedy, regardless of how big or small. While some might see the phrase as having become a cliche in recent times, the sentiments behind those three words are still often used in genuine regard for those in need.
For Oats and Alabama basketball, thoughts and prayers were needed. Not just for Harris and her family, but for themselves.
The team was forced to move on quickly, though. And in doing so, the team traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to face its next opponent in Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. The game was obviously an emotional one for the Crimson Tide, even after it defeated the Commodores 78-66.
“I didn’t see a ton of emotion pregame necessarily,” Oats said. “I did see some guys break down postgame. I think they had been bottling some stuff up. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve gotta get to the game. Got to the game, took care of business and then it’s almost like a big relief. The game’s over and we could let out a sigh of relief. But I think the guys still needed some time.
“They’re gonna need a lot of time. Guys have been using the resources with the school, with the counselors. I think more of them will see some counselors tomorrow. But it’s a hard situation for guys to go through. I thought guys got themselves locked in, ready to go. It’s almost like Let’s use basketball as a little bit of a release, if that makes sense. And then I just think postgame it got a little bit more emotional than pregame.”
Just prior to Alabama’s game at Vanderbilt, Oats detailed that he had reached out to former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis regarding advice on the situation. During his time in the NFL, Lewis was Arrested along with two other men in January of 2000, charged with the Murders of two men who were stabbed outside of an Atlanta nightclub.
Lewis’ Murder charge was dropped months later after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. The two other men charged were also later acquitted.
Scroll to Continue
Oats said that he contacted Lewis through his daughter, Diaymon Lewis, who is a recent graduate of Alabama. During the phone call, Oats said that Ray advised him to share the Bible and pray with his players.
“The passage read, ‘To those that love God, all things work together for good,'” Oats said. “This obviously doesn’t look like there’s any good in it, but we’re trying to use it to bring the team closer together. It’s a tragic situation. We feel awful for any part of what anybody in our program had to do with it, but we’re trying our best to learn within the group, make better choices.”
The verse cited was Romans 8:28, a verse often used by Christians in times of trouble or where a Tragedy might not have an explanation. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the verse addresses not just the good during the present life of Christians, but ultimately the life that comes afterwards — that no matter what ill befalls you, God can use it for Christians’ Eternal benefit. That can either be saving those suffering from tragedies, but also sending those through tragedies in order to draw them closer to Him.
And in Alabama basketball’s time of crisis and tragedy, Oats utilized the verse and shared it with his team.
“I’m a believer, so a lot of prayer, a lot of scripture reading just to figure out what to tell the team,” Oats told SEC Network after the game at Vanderbilt. “I’ve shared with them a few passages. We think you can learn from it. Hopefully our guys in the future make better choices. Hopefully you don’t have to learn from your own mistakes, hopefully you can learn from other People’s Mistakes .
“The basketball side of it became really, really unimportant for a while there, but the basketball side of it also gives us something where our team can pull together.”
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, Oats’ sharing of scripture with the team has had a profound impact. And the sharing of verses didn’t stop on Tuesday.
During his press conference on Friday ahead of the team’s trip to Missouri, Oats revealed another story from the Bible that he had shared with his team.
“I read the guys a passage this morning on Joseph from The Word,” Oats said.[…] Different guys process things differently and guys that were tighter to Darius obviously are taking some of it a little harder, but I think overall the team’s — sometimes you use these instances to pull a group tighter together.
“I think our guys, they have to come tighter together because of what they’ve been through.”
In the Book of Genesis, Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his brothers. He was then thrown into prison due to false accusations. After years in prison, he was released and brought to Pharaoh in Egypt, where he ended up becoming one of his most trusted advisors and helped save the nation from famine.
Among those saved were his own family. What his brothers originally intended for evil, God used for good (Genesis 50:20).
Last Saturday, Alabama took its trip to face Missouri. In his three trips to play the Tigers in ‘CoMo’, Oats and the Crimson Tide had failed to bring home a win. The narrative changed that day, though, as Alabama defeated Missouri 85-64. The win improved the Crimson Tide to 7-0 in SEC play and a 17-2 overall record on the season.
After the game, Oats said that he couldn’t be prouder with the mental resiliency that his team had shown, not just over the course of the game but the entire week as a whole.
“Really proud,” Oats said. “A lot of mentally tough guys that are able to focus on what they need to focus on and still have compassion for the whole situation, to be honest with you. I think our guys, even before the game, we kind of gathered together. Noah Gurley leads the team in a prayer. We prayed for the people involved in the situation and prayed for us to be able to focus, and I think they did a good job.”
Alabama basketball still has a long way to go before it removes itself from the situation entirely. For the remainder of the season, Miles’ actions — regardless of whether or not he’s found innocent or guilty when the trial ultimately takes place — will follow the team wherever it goes.
Oats is well aware of that, though, and has taken all of the precautions. Through his leadership over the past week, he has laid a solid foundation of helping his players deal with the struggles. Whether it be through counselling, advice or prayer, the avenues have been presented to deal with the shock and grief resulting from the situation.
For Alabama, no coach could have handled the ordeal with more grace than Oats. He has never once shied away from a question, a press conference — anything. And answer after well-thought answer, he proves why he was meant to be the Coach of the Crimson Tide.
Performance and results on the court often overshadow the character and leadership of coaches, but for Oats, he has succeeded in both over his first four seasons in Tuscaloosa. With the potential of a new arena and the rising brand of Crimson Tide hoops, Oats can continue to be an integral part of the team’s growth — not just on the court, but off it as well.
Can continue to be an integral part? Well. Should continue to be an integral part. Coaches like Oats don’t come around often, and Alabama Athletics’ leadership should certainly take note of the gem that they currently have coaching Crimson Tide basketball.
A Week the Alabama Crimson Tide Will Never Forget: All Things CW
Full-Court Press: Takeaways from Alabama Basketball at Missouri
Well. 4 Alabama Doesn’t Have to Rely on Brandon Miller Every Night