Q&A with men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats
Nate Oats has gone from high school head coach, to assistant coach of Buffalo, to the 2018 Mid-American Conference coach of the year. Oats has seen players from Blake Hamilton to Wes Clark play for his team but has a mostly familiar group for this season.
Oats became head coach of men’s basketball in 2015, the season following the program’s first Mid-American Conference Championship. Oats enters his fourth year as head coach with two conference championship seasons behind him during the position. Oats is now hoping to take the team to new heights following last year's NCAA Tournament victory over the Arizona Wildcats.
Q: What do you think of your non-conference schedule and quality of ranked matchups?
A: I think we got some really good matchups. Syracuse is always an exciting game, really trying to test ourselves and earn those big wins. Now I’m just trying to get these guys ready. I’m not just having them practice for Saint Francis. We’ve got them preparing for all types of matchups. If it’s West Virginia, we get ready for their press. If we need to run a one-three-one zone or a man press, we go from practice-to-practice. We emulate as much as you can in practice, but you can only do so much with a talented team like Syracuse. And once you get in the game, at least with us, we teach our guys to be players. I don't want them married to a structure that turns them into robots.
Q: What do you expect from your returning players? What do they have to work on?
A: I think the biggest thing to work on is making sure they stay humble and their work ethic and their effort every day matches the goals that they have for the season. It's not going to happen, you have to go make it happen. So I think if we get complacent at all, that’s going to be the biggest issue, so let’s stay aggressive and assertive. Let’s make sure we talked about three H's: humble, healthy and hungry. We’ve got to be hungry for more. [We] can't be satisfied with where we've been. We’ve got to keep pushing the program to new heights.
Q: What do the freshmen, specifically Ronaldo Segu, bring to the team?
A: You look at the two freshmen we brought in, [Jeenathan Williams] and Ronaldo, those are two great talents right there. Both of their games are growing. What’s nice with Rondo is that there is so much he can already do. He already has the passing mind you want in a guard. He can shoot the ball well. His shot already has a nice arc to it. We just got to make sure he can do all that in games. He isn’t in that college shape yet but he can play a whole game. He needs more of that size, more muscle to help with bigger opponents. He has the potential to be a great player here. He is one of the most talented players I have coached while at Buffalo.
Q: Are you hoping for a better non-conference record or is the non-conference more for testing the team early?
A: We do want a better non-conference [record] than last year. We didn't get any of those signature wins we were looking for. If we had some of those, we wouldn’t have needed to win the MAC Championship to get in the NCAA Tournament, we could have gotten an at-large bid. So even though we had a really good conference record, the biggest thing is we're growing every day, getting better from game to game. If you're not putting yourself against high-quality competition every game out in the offseason, you're just not going to be where you need to be come conference play. So we would like to have a better non-conference, but still the biggest goal is to be playing our best basketball come March and [with] the non-conference games being as tough as they are.
Q: Who do you feel will be the starting five and what are you looking for in terms of production from the starters?
A: In my time as a coach anywhere, I don’t think I have ever started the five best players. The referees sometimes establish themselves or you got to figure out how they're going to call each game. Having quality and depth on the bench is always nice because it lets you score at any point. It’s nice to be a starter. You get your name announced, you get to have a cheers when they announce your name in the starting lineup. The bottom line is, are you on a finishing team that closes the game when we need to win? At the end, that's where you need to be, so I think the players understand that the fans look at who your starters are more than anyone else. So as it stands, I don’t think there is a set starting five yet.
Q: Do you feel expectations are close to what they were last year? Does the season feel different to you?
A: Expectations are higher than they have ever been. Coming off last year, more is expected from us than ever before. It’s where we want to be, we want people to expect to see more than just one tournament win. There are more eyes than ever on our program. Now we have a chance to do something historic for the program again. I think it helps when that is the expectation, to make more history because it gives the players pressure to thrive on.
Q: Is it a busy year for yourself outside of basketball?
A: At this point, I’m thinking about the team everyday. Still, it’s been great in the area so far. My girls are starting sports which is fun. I miss their games a lot during the season but they really like it up here. We moved into a new house over the summer too, so there is just a lot going on for me. Most of my time goes to the team once the season has started, but it has been good in Buffalo so far.