Undefeated Alabama meets another top-25 team, a familiar face for Nate Oats

Alabama coach Nate Oats scored his eighth win against an Associated Press top-15 team Thursday night as the tide blew past No. 12 Michigan State 81-70 in the second half.

It was the first time Oats faced the Spartans’ Tom Izzo, whose basketball camp Oats worked as a high school coach in Michigan from the early 2000s.

No. 18 Alabama (5-0) plays another opponent in UConn next Friday night, No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll, and a coach Oats knows well but has never coached in Danny Hurley.

The fifth-year Huskies trainer and his brother Bobby gave Oats his first college coaching job — a relationship that began more than a decade ago when Oats was cold calling from Romulus High School outside of Detroit.

Danny Hurley, a successful high school coach in New Jersey, had taken a job at Wagner College in New York City and brought his brother Bobby, a former duke and NBA point guard, to his team. Oats tried visiting college and professional programs to observe practices and network, and when he called Wagner to inquire, the tiny Northeast Conference program had no one to answer the phone.

“Bobby Hurley answers the phone,” Oats recalled in a 2021 interview with Barstool Sports. “I had Bobby Hurley’s cell phone number throughout the deal. We knew each other a little.”

Rhode Island hired Danny Hurley as head coach in 2012 and Bobby Hurley followed as assistant head coach. The previous URI staff had recruited one of the Oats’ high school players, E.C. Matthews, which continued after the staff change. Matthews later signed to Rhode Island and scored a top 100 recruiting win for Danny Hurley.

“Me and Danny are suddenly developing a really good relationship,” Oats said of Matthew’s recruitment. “He’s a high school guy two years away. I’m a high school guy. We beat it away.”

When Bobby Hurley left the next year to become Buffalo’s coach in 2013, Oats didn’t specifically mean to vie for his Rhode Island vacancy. Instead, Oats texted Danny Hurley congratulating him on one of his assistants finding a job elsewhere and confirming that Matthew’s commitment was firm.

“The body is still warm and people are texting it [Bobby’s] job already,” Oats said of Danny Hurley. “He said those idiots who text me they’re looking for a job are out. I’m done with them. You have no feeling.”

Danny Hurley appreciated Oats’ tactfulness and, despite not being able to offer his brother a place on his Rhode Island staff, asked his brother to consider Oats for an assistantship at Buffalo. Interviewed at the 2013 Final Four and Oats, the two were hired and spent two seasons on staff until Hurley was hired by Arizona State in 2015. That led to Oats’ promotion at Buffalo and propelled his career to Alabama for the last four seasons.

Oats faced Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils in the 2019 NCAA tournament and won 91-74. Now Oats meets Danny Hurley on court for the first time in what will be the second meeting between Alabama and UConn. The first came in the Elite Eight of the 2004 NCAA tournament, when the Huskies ended the historic run of the Tide en route to a national championship.

The 8:30 p.m. CT tip in Portland, Ore., will decide who plays in Sunday’s championship game at the Phil Knight Invitational. Alabama is ranked 11th in KenPom while UConn (6-0) is 12th.

“They’re good. They’re talented. They’re tough,” Oats said of UConn during his Crimson Tide Sports Network Radio interview after the game. “They will play super hard. shoot, we [will have] played two of the heaviest programs in the country on back-to-back nights.”

The Huskies defeated Oregon 83-59 on Thursday. UConn shot 17 of 37 on three pointers, a program record for brands and not far from Alabama’s 21 of 46 in a win over Jacksonville State last week.

“I like 30 [attempts]To me,” joked Hurley after Thursday’s win. “I’m not Nate Oats.”

If Alabama wins Friday night, it will play the winner of leaders North Carolina and Iowa State Sunday at 9 p.m. CT. If Alabama loses to UConn, Tide meets loser North Carolina-Iowa State in Sunday’s third-place game at 2:30 pm CT.

Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @micerodak.