There are a few things that can take Aaron Estrada out of class. A call from Alabama men’s basketball Nate Oates did just that in April. Soon after, the Hofstra graduate entered the transfer portal, and Oats was the first coach to reach out to him. The conversation lasted only a few minutes, but Estrada’s emotions were strong.
“Of course I knew who he was and everything, but he introduced himself and told me he was interested,” Estrada said. “And he wants to know me and hire me more. I talked to him for about five minutes, but I had to go back to class.”
Estrada committed a few weeks later on April 22, becoming the latest ball-control combo guard in Oats’ system. About six months later, Oats brought Estrada to SEC Media Day as one of Alabama’s two player representatives, joining Mark Sears, marking his first impact on the program. After his first call with Oats, Estrada knew he wanted to choose Alabama because of the program’s recent winning pedigree and style of play. On a completely revamped roster, Estrada will be the focal point of this year’s Crimson Tide.
Estrada earned Hofstra Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year honors the past two seasons. Last season, Lou Henson (mid-major) was an All-American after averaging 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game after going 25-10 and making the second round of the NIT.
“I coached at the same level in Buffalo,” Oats said. The player of the year in the Mid-American Conference (where Buffalo plays) could come here and start at Alabama.
Estrada’s first game-like action against Alabama came in a personal scrimmage against TCU on Sunday. He scored 19 points with five rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes, but Alabama lost 85-81 without Sears after he left with a groin injury. Adjusting to new surroundings is familiar to Estrada, who will be in his fourth team in five years. His career began in 2019 at St. Peter’s, followed by a year at Oregon, where he played in just nine games.
He is highly regarded as a leader around the Tide program and has described himself as a “ready and prepared” player who lost five of his top 6 players from last year’s SEC championships and now hopes to lead by example. It has eight elementary and high school students.
Estrada promised Oates in part the chance to prove himself on the big stage. At the time, Oats was without a full-time assistant coach (all three left for head coaching jobs); The only employees left were director of scouting Adam Baumann and coordinator of player development Christian Pino. But Oats sold Estroda on his development, which has landed several players in the NBA over the past few years. Estrada said Oats was the only coach he talked to about his future career after college.
Games haven’t officially started, but early returns indicate Estrada is well positioned for a strong season.
“(He) plays hard. He’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen,” Oats said. “Then his skill level is so high. We put everything into practice, he has the highest percentage at the rim of any guard I’ve ever seen. He shoots well from three. And he’s good. It can be defensive.
Estrada averaged 1.5 steals in both seasons at Hofstra, and at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he’s a versatile player and active in passing lanes. But where Estrada shines is as a three-level scoring guard on the offensive end.
According to KenPom, Hofstra’s true shooting percentage was 57 percent. At the rim where Oats excelled, he shot 68.7 percent, which ranked in the 83rd percentile nationally by CBB Analytics. This clip below shows one of the ways Estrada looks great near the basket: he plays with strong body control and speed that allows him to get past defenders and Eurosteps to create space.
Estrada should fit in well in Alabama’s wide-open system. He’s a good one-on-one player who can move a variety of dribble packages and maneuvers to create a threat at any level – he shot 56 percent from 2 and 35 percent from 3 (nearly six attempts per game) at Hofstra. In Oates’ most recent practice, Estrada made 10-of-15 3s. Estrada shot the same percentage on catch and shot looks last season when he was unguarded.
Estrada doesn’t even need the ball in hand to score. He’s a 59 percent shooter and switcher and moves well off screens or cutting opportunities. One of the areas of focus for Mark Sears this season is playing more pick-and-rolls, with opportunities for Estrada as an off-ball guard on those looks.
Alabama’s offense uses a lot of tight ends, and Estrada led the CAA in tackles per game in 2021-22, finishing fifth last season. “He definitely has the ball in his hands a lot,” Oates said.
Estrada acknowledged that he is in the middle of Alabama’s biggest question mark as a team: how the new units will fit in once the games begin. The Storm will play a strong conference slate including Arizona, Purdue and Creighton. Alabama plays an exhibition at Wake Forest on Oct. 29 (Sears is questionable) before the season begins Nov. 6 at Morehead State.
“He’s an All-SEC type of guard,” Sears said. You all will see when we start (playing games).
(Aaron Estrada photo at SEC Basketball Media Day: Vasha Hunt / USA Today)