Ex-Romulus coach Oats realizes 'lifelong dream' with Buffalo job

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Nate Oats

Nate Oats has gone from being head basketball coach at Romulus High to the same position at Division I Buffalo in just two short years.

In 2013, Oats led Romulus to the Class A state championship, defeating Detroit Southeastern in the title game at the Breslin Center.

Bobby Hurley, who was then an assistant coach at Rhode Island, was recruiting Romulus star guard E.C. Matthews during that 2013 state championship season and was impressed with Oats' coaching style.

When Hurley took the Buffalo head coaching job soon after, he brought in Oats as an assistant coach. They helped the Bulls earn their first Mid-American Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance last month with former Romulus star Justin Moss -- the MAC Player of the Year -- leading the way.

After Hurley took the Arizona State job earlier this month, the Bulls promoted Oats to head coach.

"It's been crazy, the phone hasn't stopped ringing and I've been getting texts non-stop. A lot of people are congratulating me, others want jobs," said the 40-year-old Oats, who is trying to fill his staff since Hurley took all his assistants, aside from Oats, with him to Arizona State.

"This has been my lifelong dream. Timing is everything in this business and I was prepared. I'm really looking forward to it. It would be a big change if I was just an assistant and then got this job, but I've been a head coach for a long time so I know how to run a program.

"When I was at Romulus we had the toughest schedule in the state. I coached or faced a lot of Division I players and had to game plan against them, along with handling personalities. I'm ready for it."

At Romulus, Oats had a 222-52 record in 11 years, reaching Breslin four times for the Final Four. Hurley was so impressed with how Oats handled a practice while watching Matthews that he was quoted this past winter in the Buffalo News, saying: "He was building a program that was comparable, if he had stayed, to what my dad was doing at St. Anthony (in New Jersey).

"I went with my brother (Rhode Island head coach Dan) to watch E.C. work out, and I watched Nate coach him. I just thought he ran a program like a college program would be run. They had disciplined, structured practices. He got his kids to play extremely hard."

Lamonte Bearden

Hurley's compliment was big, especially since his father, Bob Sr., has guided St. Anthony to 27 state championships and more than 1,000 wins during his 40-year career.

Oats has a feeling he will be able to keep all the players in the program. He has had a hand in recruiting several of them, including freshman point guard Lamonte Bearden from Wisconsin. The Bulls have four starters returning, including Moss (17.5 points, 9.2 rebounds) and sophomore guard Shannon Evans (15.4 points, 5 assists).

"I'm good with all the guys and I've been talking to their parents," Oats said. "We have four starters back and I feel real good with the roster back. I feel we have the best roster in the MAC. I feel Monte Bearden's going to be the best point guard in the MAC next year."

Oats will have five players from metro Detroit on the roster, including Moss, who will be back for his senior year, 6-10 senior Raheem Johnson (Romulus), sophomore guard Christian Pino (Romulus), sophomore guard Mory Diane (Detroit Pershing) and incoming 6-8, 240-pound center Nick Perkins of Milan.

"There's a lot of good basketball players, good talent in the metro (Detroit) area, especially for this level," Oats said.