Alabama coach Nate Oats issued a public apology on Saturday to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after questioning the Hall of Fame coach earlier in the week over his decision to nix the remaining nonconference slate for the Blue Devils, a decision Krzyzewski said was rooted in giving players a break for Christmas to see families but also in their health and safety.
“I want to publicly apologize to Coach K for what I said,” Oats said after Alabama’s 64-56 loss to Clemson. “I assigned a motive to him and a decision made for his team, which I shouldn’t have done. I actually felt terrible about it. After I got out of the press conference, I reached out to him. He was gracious enough to return my call. We had a good talk on the phone. I have the utmost respect for him as a coach.”
Oats had previously questioned K’s motives for canceling nonconference play, posing this question to reporters on Thursday: “Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost the two nonconference games at home he’d still be saying that?”
Oats came off cavalier about COVID in his previous remarks, taking a firm stand that college hoops should continue despite health concerns. He apologized for that, too, emphasizing that precautions should be taken and that he has the health of everyone — his team most of all — at the forefront of his mind.
“I definitely wasn’t trying to say COVID’s not serious,” he said. “Some people may have taken that. I know the numbers aren’t great right now. We need to take all the precautions we can. I think our training staff, our medical staff at the University of Alabama has done an unbelievable job with all that. But one lesson I learned is to just speak for our program. I can’t speak for what’s going on elsewhere. That’s wrong and unnecessary.”
Duke is 2-2 on the season after taking losses at home to Michigan State and Illinois in December, its worst start to a season in more than two decades. But Krzyzewski’s concerns of pushing forward are related not just to the overall health of players and staffers, as he said earlier this week, but also the planning of the season and how it may unfold.
“We’re just plowing through this,” Krzyzewski said via ESPN.com. “People are saying the next six weeks are going to be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad. On the other side of it, there are these vaccines that are coming out. By the end of the month, 20 million vaccine shots will be given. By the end of January or in February, another 100 million. Should we not reassess that? See just what would be best?”
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
As for Oats, who has contracted and already recovered from COVID-19, he still feels teams should push ahead despite the continued surge. From his view, Oats argues, the amount of resources players have at their disposal on campus far exceeds any they would have available elsewhere.
“We should be playing,” said Oats, adding that his players want to play. “It’s the best thing for them. Alabama basketball is a big part of their life. It’s great for a mental and physical standpoint both, to be honest with you. I’m 100-percent confident saying that I think our team is the safest here with our medical people. We’re getting tested three or four times a week, and if anything pops up, we’ve got a lot of resources here at the University of Alabama.”