Nate Oats once worked Michigan State basketball camps. Now he will coach against Tom Izzo

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The Nate Oats who worked Michigan State basketball camps in the early 2000s might have trouble believing what Oats in 2022 gets to do this week.

Two decades later, Oats is in his fourth season coaching Alabama basketball (4-0). This week, he will face No. 15 Michigan State (3-1) on Thursday (9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon. This is also his first matchup, going against Spartans coach Tom Izzo, as two high-major coaches.

"It is a little surreal," Oats said Tuesday. "The good thing is, I don't have to play Coach Izzo. He's got a lot more wins than I've got. I've got some pretty good players that I get to coach. My players get to play his players. We've both got pretty good players, so it should be a pretty good game. It will be a little different going down to shake his hand before this game."

Oats grew up in nearby Wisconsin, then he moved to Detroit to take a job at Romulus High School. Oats said Izzo was great to him even before he took the Romulus job.

That only continued once Oats was at Romulus.

"He was always great to me as a high school coach," Oats said.

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Izzo, the Spartans coach since 1995, also served as a job reference for Oats years later. Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne called up Izzo during the hiring process before he offered it to Oats.

"In a small way, he helped me get the job," Oats said.

And now Izzo will have to face a No. 18 Alabama team coached by Oats that has shown it can compete with and beat the best teams in college basketball in recent years. The winner will face the winner of the game between Oregon and UConn on Friday.

"I never thought I'd coach against Coach Izzo," Oats said. "I still feel like a high school coach that caught a couple breaks in life."