Laurent Bams embraces crucial role change for Alabama swimmingBy Ehsan Kassim | 02/01/2018 1:48am
Laurent Bams visited Alabama the weekend the Ole Miss Rebels came to Tuscaloosa and defeated the Crimson Tide in football in 2015.
Though the loss still stings for many fans, that game was part of what convinced the swimmer from Eijsden, Netherlands to come to Alabama and join its swimming & diving team.
“People were just devastated,” Bams said. “I just knew sports were really big here; that’s what stood out most to me and why I wanted to come here.”
Another factor that helped Bams land at Alabama was the swimming senior associate head coach, Jonty Skinner.
“I sent a bunch of emails to a lot of coaches in the SEC and Pac-12,” Bams said. “Alabama stood out for me the most, mostly because of Jonty [Skinner]; he’s the coach that’s coaching me now. He had a really good track record. When I came on the recruiting trip here, I really liked him. I definitely wanted to give him a shot.”
Alabama graduated all its top breaststrokers last season, creating a void that needed to be filled for this season.
Head coach Dennis Pursley had brought in freshman breaststrokers, but turned to one of his swimmers that he trusted could do the job.
“He’s really a coach’s dream,” Pursley said. “I’ve been coaching for 40-plus years, I have coached Olympic medalists, world record holders and a lot of the more accomplished swimmers in our sport, but he's maybe the most versatile swimmer I’ve ever been associated with. His versatility is a huge key for us, he can swim pretty much anything. He loves a challenge”
Through training with Skinner, Bams worked hard at the swimming technique he admits he cares for the least. Bams prefers to do freestyle, but was willing to make the change for the sake of the team.
“[The transition to breaststroke] wasn’t hard,” Bams said. “I just had to change my technique; that was the hardest thing.”
Bams has been largely successful in his transition to the breaststroke. He was named the Southeastern Conference Swimmer of the Week Jan. 16 following a strong four-win performance against Florida State Jan. 12.
He won the 100 breaststroke with a 53.97, nearly a second ahead of the rest of the competition. Bams followed that up with a career-best 1:59.41 in the 200 breaststroke.
Bams works as hard academically as he does on his athletics. He had a 4.0 grade point average during the fall semester, leading the Alabama swimming team that had a 3.6 GPA, the highest among teams that were in the NCAA tournament last season.
Bams said that in the Netherlands, students cannot combine academics and athletics in universities, which was a major reason he wanted to come to the U.S. for college.
“I still have a lot of time left to work hard and study,” he said. “It hasn’t been a big problem for me. I’ve enjoyed school.”
Bams’ teammates often follow his lead. When he does well in the pool, it motivates the rest of the team to match his success.
“We have this dynamic that we want to one-up each other,” teammate Zane Waddell said. “When Laurent does something good, then we want to do something good. We try to improve ourselves and each other that way. In relays, when Laurent has a killer leg, it just brings a hype to the whole relay.”
Waddell, a sophomore from Bloemfotein, South Africa, and Bams are in the same training group. Waddell credits Bams for helping his transition to America and the University be a smooth one.
“He showed me the ropes, explained our cultural differences,” Waddell said. “He just made me feel more at home at Alabama.”
With Bams leading the way for Alabama, Pursley feels good about the team’s chances this year in the NCAA tournament.
Alabama returns to the pool on Feb. 2-4 in Auburn, as it faces its in-state rival in the final tuneup before the SEC Championships on Feb. 14-18.