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Backcourt brothers find a home at Alabama
On the surface, if you just look at their bios on paper, Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada come from different worlds. Sears is from Muscle Shoals, Ala., the only in-state native on the Alabama roster. Estrada is from Woodbury, N.J.
As players, if you follow their journeys to this point and the skills they've developed, Sears and Estrada could be the perfect complimentary backcourt for the reigning SEC regular-season and tournament champions.
Each has played at a high level at multiple high schools and colleges. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Sears returned to his home state last season after starting his college career at Ohio University, and he was the No. 2 scorer for a Tide team that reached No. 1 in the polls and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The 6-3, 190-pound Estrada played at St. Peter's, Oregon and Hofstra - where he was the back-to-back CAA player of the year - before transferring to Alabama for his final college season. He watched the Crimson Tide during its special season a year ago and loved the style and pace of play. When he entered the portal, Alabama's Nate Oats was the first coach to call him, and Oats' consistency in maintaining that communication won over Estrada, ranked by ESPN as the No. 12 transfer in the country.
"Once I got to know him," Estrada said, "it was an easy decision."
Estrada has gained an appreciation for Sears as well, calling him the toughest cover on the team in practice.
"He's a dog," Estrada said. "He goes hard every rep, every possession."
Oats said the same is true of Estrada.
"He's assimilated great," the coach said. "He's an unbelievable kid, and his skill level is so high. He's not missing much, and he brings it every day."
Both Sears and Estrada can score. Only SEC player of the year Brandon Miller averaged more than Sears' 12.5 points a game for Alabama last season. Estrada is the No. 10 returning scorer in Division I after putting up 20.2 points a game at Hofstra a year ago.
On a team with no shortage of talent even without Miller - keep an eye on versatile 6-11 North Dakota State transfer Grant Nelson - the backcourt will play a major role in determining whether Alabama can repeat its conference supremacy.
Sears, still motivated by the upset loss to San Diego State in the Sweet 16, said he believes this team has "the capabilities" to go farther, all the way to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
"I want to get over that Sweet 16 hump," he said. "We want to play our best basketball in March."