WATERTOWN, Wis. -- Scissors in one hand, a frayed basketball net in the other, Coach Nate Oats turned and held up the net as a roar went up from the University of Buffalo faithful, standing on the confetti-strewn floor inside of the Quicken Loans Arena.
The Bulls had just captured the Mid-American Conference Tournament under Oats, who was named as the MAC Coach of the Year for 2018. In Oats' 3-year tenure at Buffalo, he has led the team to a 63-38 record, including 2 MAC Tournament titles.
Safe to say, he has come a long way since his time as a Watertown boy donning the Blue and Gold of Maranatha.
Oats was a 4-year basketball player, a team captain, and an all-conference performer for Maranatha from 1993-97 before filling the role of assistant coach from 1997-2000. Since then, the Watertown native has modeled diligence and excellence in the field of coaching - two qualities that shone during Buffalo's 26-8 season and subsequent MAC title this year.
Oats' impact on the Buffalo program was immediate. In his first year as head coach, Oats led the Bulls to a 20-win season and their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. That 20-win mark was the best season in program history by a first-year coach. In their MAC Tournament run this year, UB allowed just 67.0 points per game, winning all 3 contests by double-digits.
To state the obvious, Oats is making an impact. And his love for the game has existed almost as long as he has.
Oats: a Local Boy
Oats' passion for basketball has been lifelong - he has been "basketball junky" ever since he was a kid. He started playing basketball for Calvary Baptist Christian School (Watertown, Wisconsin) when he was in 5th Grade, but he was into basketball even before he suited up in his first official jersey. His mom and dad would frequently find young Nate lying in bed with a basketball tucked under his arm.
"Nate has always liked basketball," said Dr. Larry Oats, who is Nate's father and the current Dean of Maranatha Baptist Seminary. "He learned somewhere that he should lie in bed and, using just his fingertips, throw the ball from hand to hand umpteen times every night."
As Oats matured, so too did his work ethic, his passion for basketball, and his desire for ministry. According to Dr. Oats, Nate was actively involved in various outreach programs throughout his high school and college years.
"In high school, [Nate] took a missions trip each summer," his father said. "There used to be a boys' prison near Milwaukee, and he held Bible studies there with some of the boys. When they were released, he followed up with them at their homes, attempting to get them involved in a good church and keep them [reading] the Scriptures."
Throughout his years as a student, Nate Oats embodied the application of Maranatha's mission: "Developing leaders for the local church and the world, to the praise of His glory."
The Watertown boy had a consistent work ethic in his ministry, and he applied that same work ethic to basketball.
"Nate has always been a worker," Dr. Oats said. "In high school, he went to as many three-on-three tournaments as he could. He started attending Maranatha's basketball camp as soon as he was allowed, and he was a student of the game early in his career."
Oats took that work ethic and applied it wherever he went. Oats was brought onto the UB coaching staff in 2013 by then-head coach Bobby Hurley, who noticed Oats' coaching prowess at the helm of Romulus High School, a bona fide powerhouse program in Michigan. In 11 seasons at Romulus, Oats led the team to a 222-52 overall record, which included seven straight conference championships.
Five years after leading a bunch of high school boys, Oats and the UB Bulls are making a return trip to the Big Dance.
Fast-forward to 2018
"Being able to witness our former student-athletes' success serves as a great reminder that what we do does matter," said MBU Director of Athletics, Rob Thompson. "It does impact the next generation of coaches. I know [Oats] was a fierce competitor and student of the game. We are proud to call Nate an alumnus of MBU, and look forward to what the Lord has in store for him."
With a MAC Coach of the Year honor to his name and a recently-signed 5-year extension to his contract at Buffalo, the future is bright for Oats.
"It's a program award," said Oats regarding his MAC honor. "I've got great players and great assistants, so it works. I'm really happy for the program."
Buffalo wants to keep their man on the job. With Oats' and his stalwart work ethic leading the charge, UB will certainly continue to be a program to watch.
Oats and the Bulls begin their NCAA Tournament play with an 8:40 (CDT) tipoff tomorrow night against Arizona. Watch the game live on CBS.