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Competitiveness of ASU coach Bobby Hurley exemplified by Buffalo memory

(AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

This won’t be the first time you’ve read it and it won’t be the last:

Bobby Hurley is set to face Buffalo, the team he coached for two years before taking over the Arizona State men’s basketball program. In his two years at the helm, the Bulls won a pair of Mid-Atlantic Conference championships and then made the NCAA Tournament in 2015. The current Buffalo coach, Nate Oats, was hired by Hurley as an assistant in 2013.

You might already be sick of it. Hurley’s thoughts are “only with the guys that I’m bringing to battle.”

But when Hurley saw the No. 11 seed would play Buffalo, he said something fluttered in him. Moments of his Buffalo tenure are still relevant.

In fact, for some time, there was a chance Oats would be an ASU coach.

“I told Nate that I think that he should aggressively try and get the (Buffalo) job,” Hurley said. I told Nate, ‘If you don’t get it, there’s a spot open for you with me on the staff at Arizona State.'”

Oats got the job. Hurley moved on without him. The two remain close, talking about once a week, and frequently watch each other’s games.

Both coaches seem familiar with the other team, which will be a blessing and a curse come Friday when they have to gameplan against the other.

But one thing Oats knows first hand, not just from seeing on TV, is how competitive Hurley is.

As an assistant coach under Hurley, Oats said he learned why the former Duke Blue Devil had been “such a good player.”

“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,” Oats said.

“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.”

That competitiveness didn’t go away after the Bulls games. And it wasn’t just Hurley who was competitive.

Hurley said they would play some 6 a.m. pickup games when he was around 40 years old. In one such game, he stole the ball at halfcourt and Oats chased him down.

“Most times in pickup, let the guy go and lay it in,” Hurley said. “I had to go find another gear and I ended up pulling my hamstring.

“That was one of the last times I really competitively tried to play basketball, was in Buffalo.”

But this coming week isn’t about Hurley and Oats, even if that may have been the NCAA’s intent in pitting the Sun Devils against St. John’s for the chance to take on Buffalo.

ASU forward Zylan Cheatham said his head coach has done a good job focusing on Friday instead of the past.

“(He’s) kind of making it our journey as opposed to his,” Cheatham said. “That was his message: ‘Don’t really get too far into the whole emotional impact this game could have on me,’ or something like that.

“‘I want you guys to stay focused. I’ve already did what I did in college and I’ve made my journey. It’s your guys’ turn.'”

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