On Sunday, the University at Buffalo Men’s Basketball team was awarded a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls play on Friday, March 22, at 4pm. For the team tied for the most wins in men’s college basketball (31), and ranked #15 in the AP Top 25, a 6-seed seems like a little bit of a disappointment. With that said, Head Coach Nate Oats remains optimistic.
“We had the best record in college basketball,” Oats said Sunday. “We’re tied with Houston. Nobody has more wins than we do. A six is a little low. It is what it is. You look at the teams that are one through five, those are some pretty good teams.”
Nate Oats is an expert in optimism. His whole life he has been an optimist. Looking back at his crazy rise from a high school coach to one of the best coaches in college basketball, it is no wonder he remains optimistic this March.
Oats found his love for basketball in Watertown, WI, where he was born and raised. He helped guide his high school team to a perfect 24-0 in his senior season. Oats, however, was not a superstar. He downplays his talent and states it was his hard work that allowed him to have success on the court. “I was never that good… My best role was defending the opponent’s best player.”
Although he had offers to play at Division II schools after high school, Oats chose to stay home and join his father at Division III Marantha Baptist in Watertown, WI. His father was an administrator at Marantha Baptist. It was during his time in college that he realized his dream of playing professional basketball was not going to happen. He put his time into studying the game in the hopes that he could one day become a coach himself. As he says about his time in college, “I was always there talking to the coaches, just looking to know all the little things that we did out there,” Oats said. “I was almost like another coach – making sure we had everything we needed on the floor.”
After short stints as an assistant at Marantha Baptist and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Oats chose to leave college basketball and became head coach at Romulus High School outside Detroit. He was also a teacher at Romulus. During his time at Romulus, he learned how to coach the little things. He developed young men. He taught them life lessons that translated to the basketball court.
Oats’s rise to head coach at the University of Buffalo was a little bit of luck, and a lot of going to a place with the perfect opportunity. Bobby Hurley recruited him to UB because he was impressed with the way he ran the basketball program at Romulus. Hurley recruited one of Oats’s players and got to know Oats very well. Nate Oats became an assistant to Bobby Hurley for two years. When Hurley left to coach Arizona State in 2015, Oats stepped in and became head coach at UB. He has since won two MAC Championships, and guided the UB Bulls to 3 NCAA appearances. Just last year, he led the 13 seed Bulls over nationally ranked 4 seed University of Arizona in round one.
Wouldn’t you know it, but this year the UB Bulls play Bobby Hurley’s 11-seed Arizona State University on Friday, March 22, at 4pm. I’m sure many will try to spin the game as a battle of the two coaches. If you spoke to Coach Oats and Coach Hurley, however, I know they would shift the focus back to the student-athletes, where it deserves to be. Arizona State beat St. John’s 74-65 in a round of 68 game on Wednesday night. The Sun Devils will provide the first test for the Bulls, as they hope to extend their season. In March, each round is a new challenge, and it is all about surviving and advancing.
Go get them Coach Oats and the UB Bulls! We’ll all be cheering you on. #UBDancing
Photo Courtesy of Washington Post
Coming soon: a profile of UB Women’s Head Basketball Coach Felisha Leggette-Jack!