Alabama head coach Nate Oats earned his eighth win against an Associated Press top 15 ranked team Thursday night as the Tide passed the No. 12 Michigan State in the second half, 81-70.
It was the first time Oats faced Tom Izzo of the Spartans, whose basketball fields Oats had worked as a high school coach in Michigan since the early 2000s.
no. 18 Alabama (5-0) will play Friday night against another UConn-ranked opponent, No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll and a coach Oats knows well but has never coached against Danny Hurley.
The fifth-year Huskies coach and his brother, Bobby, gave Oats his first college coaching job, a relationship that began more than a decade ago when Oats made cold calls from Romulus High School outside Detroit.
Danny Hurley, a successful high school coach in New Jersey, had taken a job at Wagner College in New York City and added his brother Bobby, a former Duke and NBA point guard, to his staff. Oats tried to visit the college and professional programs to look at the practices and the network, and when he called Wagner to inquire, the tiny Northeast Conference program had no one on staff to answer the phones.
“Bobby Hurley answers the phone,” Oats recalled in a 2021 interview with Barstool Sports. “I had Bobby Hurley’s cell phone number during the whole deal. We knew each other a little.
Rhode Island hired Danny Hurley as head coach in 2012, and Bobby Hurley followed as associate head coach. The previous URI staff had recruited one of the Oats’ high school players, EC Matthews, who continued after the staff change. Matthews later committed to Rhode Island, earning a top 100 recruiting win for Danny Hurley.
“Danny and I suddenly build a great relationship,” Oats said of recruiting Matthews. “He IS a high school kid, two years apart. I am a high school boy. We liked each other.
When Bobby Hurley left the following year to become Buffalo’s head coach in 2013, Oats specifically didn’t want to bid on his vacant position at Rhode Island. Instead, Oats sent Danny Hurley a text message congratulating him on getting one of his assistants a job elsewhere, confirming that Matthews’ commitment was firm.
“The body is still warm and people are texting him about it [Bobby’s] work already,” Oats said of Danny Hurley. “He said, these idiots who are texting me to get a job, they are out. I’m done with them. They have no feelings.
Danny Hurley appreciated Oats’ tact, and while he could not offer him a position on his Rhode Island staff, he did ask his brother to consider Oats for an assistant job in Buffalo. The two interviewed at the 2013 Final Four and Oats was hired, in part from what Bobby Hurley witnessed at Romulus High School when he helped Danny recruit Matthews.
“I just thought he ran a program like a college program would be,” Bobby Hurley said in 2015. “They had disciplined and structured practices. He made his children play extremely hard.
Oats spent two seasons on the Buffalo staff until Bobby Hurley was hired by Arizona State in 2015. This led to Oats’ promotion to Buffalo and propelled his career at Alabama for the past four seasons.
Oats faced Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and won, 91-74. Now Oats will meet Danny Hurley on the court for the first time in what will be the second ever meeting between Alabama and UConn. The first came in the Elite Eight of the 2004 NCAA Tournament as the Huskies ended the Tide’s historic run en route to a national championship.
The 8:30 p.m. CT tip in Portland, Oregon will decide who plays in Sunday’s championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational. Alabama is at no. 11 in KenPom, while UConn (6-0) is No. 12.
“They’re good. They’re talented. They’re badass,” UConn’s Oats told his Crimson Tide Sports Network Post match radio interview. “They will play very hard. Shoot us [will have] played two of the toughest programs in the country on consecutive nights.
The Huskies defeated Oregon, 83-59, on Thursday. UConn shot 17-of-37 on three-pointers, a program high for shooting and not far from Alabama’s 21-of-46 in their win against Jacksonville State last week.
“I like 30 [attempts]for me,” Hurley equipped after Thursday’s victory. “I’m not Nate Oats.”
If Alabama wins Friday night, 9:00 PM CT on Sunday at 9:00 PM CT they will play winners North Carolina and Iowa State. If Alabama loses to UConn, the Tide will meet underdog North Carolina-Iowa State in the third-place game at 2:30 PM CT Sunday.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.