Final Four opponents Dan Hurley of UConn and Nate Oats of Alabama have deep ties | Top Stories

By JOHN MARSHALL - AP Basketball Writer
6 Min Read

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Connections are renewed at the Final Four every year.

Coaches who played or coached at one of the other schools on opposite sidelines. Players facing a former team or coach. Assistant coaches who were on previous staffs together at the same site.

The ties between Alabama coach Nate Oats, UConn coach Dan Hurley and his brother Bobby run deeper than most.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for either one of them,” said Oats, whose Alabama team faces UConn in the national semifinals Saturday night.

Their relationship goes back to Detroit more than a decade ago.

Bobby, a two-time national champion as a player at Duke, was early in his coaching career, serving as an assistant on Dan’s staff at Rhode Island. He went on a recruiting trip to Detroit’s Romulus High School to watch guard E.C. Matthews and the coach there caught his eye.

Bobby was named Buffalo’s head coach not long after that and hired Oats to serve on his staff.

“Instantly, you could see his passion for the game and knowledge of the game, how much he loved talking about basketball,” Bobby Hurley said. “Just watching how he conducted practices, it was high-level stuff. He really had a lot of intensity. The practice had great structure and you could just tell he was a gifted coach.’

Bobby Hurley had a brief-yet-successful run at Buffalo with Oats at his side, leading the Bulls to their first NCAA Tournament in 2014-15, his second season.

Hurley parlayed his success at Buffalo into the head job at Arizona State, where he’s been since 2015. Oats was named interim coach and, while then-Buffalo athletic director Danny White was deciding what to do, Hurley said he would hire Oats as an assistant at ASU if he wasn’t given the permanent position.

Oats got the job and built on Hurley’s initial success, leading the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament in his first season and three times in four years. Another Buffalo success story led to another opportunity, this one at Alabama for Oats.

The Crimson Tide missed the NCAA Tournament in Oats’ first season, but has played in March Madness each of the past four years, including three trips to at least the Sweet 16.

Oats led Alabama to the Final Four for the first time in school history this season with an overhauled roster and three new assistant coaches, earning a chance to play Dan Hurley and the Huskies with a spot in the national title game on the line.

“It’s ironic I get to coach against Danny,” Oats said. “I don’t know if ‘get’ is the correct word because they’ve got a pretty good team. But I’m in the Final Four and get to go against Danny, who helped me get in this thing. Obviously, Bobby is the one who hired me, but the two of those guys kind of came into college together and have been great to me the whole time.”

The Hurleys reciprocate the affection.

Like Bobby, Dan was enamored with the way Oats ran the Romulus program. Unlike most high school coaches, Oats treated his team like a college program, from film sessions to game-day shootarounds to cooking pregame meals for his players — just like Dan and Bobby’s dad, Bob, did during a Hall of Fame coaching career at St. Anthony’s.

“This guy’s wired different, No. 1,” Dan Hurley said. “He has a different level of energy, just the way he shows up when you meet him, the way he ran his program.”

That’s what will make Saturday’s Final Four game difficult — to a degree.

Dan Hurley, like most coaches, doesn’t exactly relish facing a friend, former colleague or even his brother. Playing against Oats is no different, though doing it on the sport’s biggest stage changes perspective.

“You would rather not play Bob or Nate or anyone you’re close to maybe in the first round of the tournament or maybe an Elite Eight game,” Dan Hurley said. “This one, I’m excited to compete against a friend in such a big spot. This is the Final Four. I think it kind of changes it a little for me because we’ve both done something incredible this season. Someone I really care about is going to play for a national championship, preferably me. I also care about Nate, too, but to a much lesser degree.”

Oats feels the same way. One coach is going to be thrilled, the other disappointed but happy for his friend.

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By JOHN MARSHALL – AP Basketball Writer , – Vivrr Local Results in sports of type article , 2024-04-04 23:30:00
Tags: final four dan hurley nate oats uconn alabama, sports, ncaa men

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