University at Buffalo men's basketball coach Nate Oats and players Jeremy Harris, CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins met reporters in Tulsa in advance of Friday's NCAA Tournament game against Arizona State. Here is what they had to say:
Q. This question is really for any of you. Looking at the matchup, obviously the big story line is Nate Oats going up against Bobby Hurley. What do you make of that match knowing who your opponent is now?
CJ MASSINBURG: It's a big match because Coach Hurley used to coach at Buffalo. It's a big match because Arizona State is a really good team. We're a really good team and people are saying that they don't know if we're going to win this game. We go throughout and give it our all. We should be good with the results.
JEREMY HARRIS: Like C said, this should be a really good game. We both play really hard. I'm pretty sure Coach Oats is going to be a little bit more into it. It should be a fun game to watch.
Q. How was your mindset different coming into this tournament last year a lower seed, could have been called a Cinderella? Do you reject that type of label as a higher seeded team with a better record, and how is it different coming in with the success you've had this season?
NICK PERKINS: I think it's a little different, you know. Obviously we had a really successful regular season and we didn't sneak up on nobody no more. Everybody knows who Buffalo is. I think along those terms, we got -- we're a little better this year.
CJ MASSINBURG: I would say it's different for us because we have more experience. Last year we came into the tournament not knowing if we can win that game, but we knew we were going to play so hard and want it more and just try to stay in there and it was a very dominating win. But this year we basically have the formula or the recipe for success and we know that it's how you prepare for a team, your practices leading up to it, how hard you play. So we just going to try to keep that same recipe and formula and just bring it over to this year.
Q. Did any of you watch the Arizona State/Saint John's game last night? If so, what did you see about Arizona State that really stood out to you guys?
JEREMY HARRIS: Like I said earlier, they played really hard, well-coached. They crash the boards real hard and they got some really talented players.
NICK PERKINS: One thing that stood out. They have a good front court. They do a good job of rebounding the ball. We have some good guards that can shoot the ball, too. Going to be a good game.
Q. Even though y'all had some success last year, right, and y'all are very well-respected this season, do y'all still carry a little bit of that chip on your shoulder being a MAC team coming into this?
CJ MASSINBURG: We definitely keep that chip on our shoulder. Our coaching staff and the media, whatever, pay attention to how the professionals pick us. Some people are picking us to the Final Four, some people picking us to get popped in the first round. We're definitely humble and we're going to keep that chip on our shoulder and know that nothing is given.
It gives us confidence, hey, people are saying that you're capable of doing great things, but they are also saying you're capable of getting put out. So we got to bring it.
JEREMY HARRIS: We got to bring it. We got to do a good job of staying in the moment and just not getting a big head, staying humble. As long as we stay with our base and do what got us here, we're going to be fine.
Q. Nick and CJ, you kind of mentioned on it a little bit, they seem to rebound really well, big guy averaging double digits in rebounds per game. Is it something you guys have focused on now you know you're going to play Arizona State keep them off glass?
NICK PERKINS: Definitely. That's a big part of the offense and what they pride themselves in and their program. And if we do that, we have a pretty good chance of winning the game.
CJ MASSINBURG: That's been a big point of emphasis in practice, if we give up a board, Coach Oats he's losing his mind. But, yeah, they are really gifted athletic team, but we're tough guys, too. We should be all good.
Q. Nick, I believe you're the only player that has any ties to Bobby Hurley. What do you remember of your interactions during the recruiting process with Bobby?
NICK PERKINS: Well, he's pretty much -- he was pretty much the main guy recruiting me. I did come to visit him. I remember him being a good guy, you know, down to earth, you know, really intense, and a guy you know, really good coach. That's what I remember about him. He's a pretty good coach, Hall of Fame basketball player. Yeah.
Q. Do you guys reflect on your first NCAA Tournament, after you guys lost to Miami, you said things, "We're going to be good for a long time. We have to stick with it." I was listening to some of those press conference the other day. What do you take away from when you guys started this thing to where you've come now?
CJ MASSINBURG: I would say that -- what was your question again?
Q. Kind of reflecting back an how far you guys have come and how far this team has come from the first time you guys were in the NCAA Tournament and now you're favorites.
CJ MASSINBURG: That definitely shows the growth of this program and where we have took it along with the coaching staffs. But that first year, it was -- we were freshmen, just trying to get in where we fit in. We didn't know how lucky we were to go to the NCAA Tournament our first year of college basketball, you know. Some people don't even experience it at all. Some people only experience it one time. We experienced it three times.
I think that year was very key, and it gave us a goal to reach for, you know. Once you got a taste of it, man, I want this again, you know? So that first year was important, and I feel like we was able to build off of it.
NICK PERKINS: Kind of what C said. You get that taste, the NCAA Tournament, there's really nothing like it. The MAC Tournament is cool, but ain't nothing like March Madness. Huge sporting event. We got that our freshman year for us to continue to keep grinding. We didn't go our sophomore year. That's really where we built the hunger for us to come out and do what we did last year and obviously the great season we have this year.
Q. For any of the players, what has Nate's approach been this week, knowing he has to face the guy that hired him?
JEREMY HARRIS: I mean, he told us just worry about the game, he's going to take care of all the questions about Bobby Hurley and so on. We just trying to stay locked in and focus on the game and the matches that we're going to be doing tomorrow night or evening.
Q. When you watch Arizona State, do you see any of yourself in them, any similarities with style and schemes with the links from the coaching staff?
CJ MASSINBURG: Coach Oats and Coach Hurley, similar but also different. They got some of the same plays that we have, I will say that. They got one, two the same that we run or whatever.
But other than that, it's kind of different, you know. I don't think the PAC-12 play as fast as we do. The tempo is different. Similarities, we run maybe two of the same plays.
NICK PERKINS: They got a lot of similarities but really different. They pride theirselves on different things. Shoot a lot of long 2s. They got a lot of front court players, shoot a lot of long shots. We get out in transition and run. That's where it's a little different in two coaching styles.
Q. Most of us in here grew up watching March Madness and filling out the brackets. Is that something you guys did when you were younger, kind of growing up, and is it still a little surreal that you're getting a chance to kind of live out that childhood dream?
JEREMY HARRIS: Yeah. I think, speaking for myself, God definitely blessed me. Because growing up, like you said, we all watch March Madness. And I'm on the podium right now talking to y'all, so this is blessed.
The Head Coach of the Bulls is Nate Oats.
NATE OATS: I'm excited to be here. Great to be in Tulsa. We got sent out West last year, worked out great for us. Happy to see us get sent out here again. People have been great so far. We've enjoyed it. Hopefully we can stay here a few more days. I thought our guys have been great, locked in pretty good. Got a question already?
Q. NCAA Tournament, obviously big story line facing Bob Hurley now that's official, you guys are playing Arizona State. What are your thoughts?
NATE OATS: Shocker of a question for a first one.
Q. Got to get it out of way, man.
NATE OATS: Listen. I talked to Coach early Sunday night. I watched obviously -- obviously we watched the game last night. I watched them frequently. One positive is that I've watch Arizona State play a lot this year obviously. He's done an unbelievable job.
I saw a stat somewhere. This is the first time since 1980 that Arizona State has been back to back NCAA Tournaments. We had never been to the tournament until he came to Buffalo. He's been the Head Coach of two programs, done an unbelievable job. Winning, going to the tournament. He's a really good coach. Great to work for. I'm a close friend of his.
Not an ideal situation to have to play him because one of us -- we both like to see each other continue to go, and one of us is not going to be able to continue. So, you know, I'm just going to lock in with my guys. The good thing, no one of my guys know him. Only guy on the team or never on the team, the only guy that Coach Hurley really recruited was Nick Perkins.
Our guys won't be distracted by that. I don't know too many players of the Arizona State. Good thing we have to play one-on-one because him and Chris Moon would have been a lot better matchup than me and him. He's a little bit better player than I was. Great friend. We're going to try to beat him. He's going to try to beat us. We'll be good friends afterwards.
Q. NCAA Tournament, do you see any similarities between your program and Arizona State and what differences do you see between them?
NATE OATS: Similarities, we're both kind of gritty, tough, hard-nosed. Bobby obviously a Jersey City guy. Kind of get his guards to get after. We have really good defensive guards. Kid like Dort is who all defensive team in the PAC-12 as a freshman. I think we both -- Remy Martin plays is a lot of flare, and he's kind of their heart and soul and got a toughness to him.
If you look at our guard play, I think we both have pretty tough, gritty guards that like to get after it and play with some freedom. We both give our guards a lot of freedom. They have little bit deeper, more athletic front line. We're probably a little deeper in the backcourt.
But for the most part, both teams play man-to-man. He's probably a little bit more zone and probably due to the fact that he's got lot more depth in the front line, wants to play them more, and Saint John's, they have more perimeter job. We play fast, they play fast. We're probably a tad faster. That may be due to more depth in our backcourt.
There's not -- it's not like one team is all zone or one team is pulling it in every time. One team is shooting a bunch of 3s. When I coached under him, we had pretty similar philosophies and I didn't change a whole lot when he left. Personnel change but philosophies haven't changed a whole lot.
Q. NCAA Tournament, what did you learn from Bobby when you coached underneath him?
NATE OATS: My first Division 1 experience, I learned the whole how it's done Division 1. I also learned how competitive he is. I'm pretty competitive. I think a lot of people, especially coaches, think they're competitive. I don't think anybody realizes how competitive the Hurleys are and that's Danny and Bobby both.
Bobby -- I haven't coached under Danny. I'm guessing he's similar. You know what I learned? I learned why he was such a good player. Because when you look at him, he's not taller than me. He's not -- he was athletic back in the day to a point, but you just know after coaching with him, you knew why he was so good because he just wasn't going to take any losses.
It was not fun when we had losses around there but the point was made that I don't accept losing and we're not going to be a losing program. Got it turned around quick. That's why he got Arizona State turned around quick. He refuses to accept anything that deals with losing.
As far as basketball goes, you obviously talk a lot different stuff. I learned some point guards -- I wasn't really a point guard. He was the best point guard arguably in college basketball history.
I learned a lot about how he thinks as a point guard and Coach and I listened a lot as he coached the guards. I became a much better coach for guards and point guards in particular, what you're looking at here and all that stuff.
Talking X and Os. That's probably the biggest thing I learned from him.
Q. What have those conversations been like with Bobby since he left? Frequently, I know geography plays a part in it. How has your relationship with him evolved and is it personal, basketball, both? What is it like?
NATE OATS: Both. We obviously follow each other's teams. We talk maybe once a week or so. I shoot him texts after big wins, try to encourage him after losses. I talk to his brother Danny quite a bit, too. He's right in the middle of Bobby hiring me. Some Final Fours you see each other. In the summers if we're at a game together, we'll sit and talk. He's a really good friend. He gave me a shot in this business. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. I tried to help him if I could. He's tried to help me if he could.
Kid from Detroit, Rob Edwards, was one of my assistants, was tied in with Rob. I try to help him when I can. It's obviously a lot harder with him way out on the West Coast. I don't know that many ties. He doesn't really need my help. He's doing a great job out here. We stay in touch for sure.
Q. What are a couple of things that you sell players on in terms of trying to get them to come to Buffalo?
NATE OATS: The weather, number one (laughter). No, we do say this: The temperature in the gym in Buffalo is the same as the temperature in the gym in Miami during the winter seasons. Right up-front, if you're worried about what the weather is outside during the basketball season, probably recruiting the wrong kid. Tell me right up front if you're going to try to go to the beach or actually go in the gym and get yourself better. In the gym the temperature is all the same.
The things we sell the most obviously, we've been winning. Kids want to be associated with winners. We go to the tournament, fourth in the last five years. Kids want to play in this tournament. Our style of play is one kids want to play. Third fastest team in the country right now. We play a style it's open, lot more like the NBA guys. We're big on player development. Guys are able to use what they work on in the gym. You build a relationship. That's the bottom line, build relationships. Kids trust you, we'll make them better.
Q. Do they still have the chip on their shoulder? Lot of success the last couple of years, still have the chip on their shoulder from being a MAC team?
NATE OATS: They need to be. 31 - 3. And got a 6th seed. They better play with a chip on their shoulder. We're happy to have it. If you're 31 - 3, another level you're not -- not going to be a 6th seed.
Q. NCAA Tournament, it's been a lot since April of 2015. What was it like for you the day you found out were you getting hired to know you had to succeed Bobby Hurley and put your stamp on this program using what Bobby set as a foundation?
NATE OATS: We wanted to continue to build. I had a great relationship with the players that stayed. They said something to Danny White, they would like to see me get the head job. We had to recruit. At the time when I was a recruit, I saw Bobby Hurley because Buffalo didn't have any tradition. Now I had to sell Buffalo basketball. I couldn't sell myself. I had no name in the business.
We build relationships, been to the tournament. I put my head down and started grinding in like early -- Bobby was good. I stayed in touch with him and Danny as well. Those guys helped me through the first few months. Both them had just gone through it, not that recently, and I was only two years removed from high school. Danny went straight from high school to Wagner. Bobby had just been through it himself. They both talked me through a lot of that stuff. Danny White the AD was great. He helped me with everything. It was a stressful couple months, but it was a good couple months, too.