BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama players erupted inside their team hotel Sunday upon learning that they earned the first overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Moments later, a smaller cheer was heard as the rest of the South group revealed themselves. It came from graduated transfer forward Noah Gurley, who could barely contain his excitement after realizing he might have a chance to play for his former team.
The first-round matchup between No. 4 seed Virginia and No. 13 seed Furman will not receive as much publicity as other matchups in this year’s tournament. However, for former paladin Noah Gurley, it’s the first step toward an unlikely reunion.
“I celebrated,” said Gurley, a transfer from Furman, when asked about his reaction to seeing the Paladins in the same group as his Crimson Tide. “You can ask anyone here, he was cheering them on. I’m very excited for them.”
It will take some March-Madness magic, but if Furman can pull off a couple of upsets and Alabama handles the business in its first two games, the two teams will meet during the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky next week.
No one is predicting the matchup, but Gurley is certainly looking for it.
“I hope we play against them,” Gurley said with a smile. “I want to see them win. They are my brothers there. I love them.”
Shortly after the bracket was revealed, Gurley began texting his former teammates. He is still close with Paladins starters Mike Bothwell, Jalen Slawson and Garret Hein and is even keeping up with Rett Lister. In addition to catching up with his friends, he also reached out to his former trainer, Bob Richey, wishing him good luck in the first two rounds.
Richey became Furman’s head coach during Gurley’s first season with the Paladins in 2017-18, developing the forward from an unranked prospect to an All-Southern Conference selection in four years. During his tenure in Greenville, South Carolina, Gurley started 83 games in 88 appearances, totaling 1,118 points and 405 rebounds while shooting 49.8% from the floor and 34.4% from beyond the arc.
“I am not who I am without Furman,” Gurley said. “I learned a lot there. I developed a lot as a player. It’s 100% why I came here. I don’t take anything for granted. That is why I am a proud Furman alumnus.”
Gurley transferred to Alabama in 2021, picking the Crimson Tide in the top eight that included Auburn, Duke, Florida, Marquette, Miami, San Diego State and Tennessee. After starting 14 games in 33 appearances last year, he has served more as a reserve this season, averaging 4.9 rebounds in 15.4 minutes per game off the bench.
Despite the diminished role on the court, the graduate has contributed to Alabama’s historic streak this year, providing veteran leadership while serving as the Tide’s most reliable frontcourt shooter. He averaged 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 4-for-7 from beyond the arc during Alabama’s title run in the SEC Tournament this past weekend. That included 11 points and three 3-pointers during the Crimson Tide’s 72-49 win over Mississippi State.
Last week, Alabama head coach Nate Oats shared a recent story when he found Gurley drenched in sweat hours after practice. After questioning the striker, Gurley informed his coach that he had just completed additional shooting training to fine-tune his game ahead of the tournament.
“I think he embodies our team, to be honest with you,” Oats said after last week’s game against Mississippi State. “Amazing culture of guys who only care about their teammates. Continued to lead, never pouted.”
Gurley says the No. 1 factor in his transfer to the Crimson Tide was the opportunity to earn a business degree in Alabama. However, playing for Oats and the chance to shine on the biggest stage in college basketball were also high on the list. He’ll get that opportunity again this month, starting Thursday when No. 1 seed Alabama (29-5) opens the tournament against No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-10) at 1:45 p.m. CT inside the Birmingham Legacy. Sand.
With a bit of luck and a bit of mayhem, he might even get a chance to share the spotlight with his former Furman teammates.
“Take care of them,” Gurley said with a smile. “They play fast and they shoot triples. I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Virginia, to be honest. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. The way they play is smart basketball, it’s good basketball. It is also difficult to explore them. They’re going to surprise some people.”