Toronto Raptors head coach and Carroll native Nick Nurse has led his to the NBA Finals in his first year at the helm. The former Kuemper Catholic Knight is seen here on the sidelines during game one of the Eastern Conference Finals May 15 in Milwaukee. 
Toronto Raptors head coach and Carroll native Nick Nurse has led his to the NBA Finals in his first year at the helm. The former Kuemper Catholic Knight is seen here on the sidelines during game one of the Eastern Conference Finals May 15 in Milwaukee. BRANDON HURLEY | TIMES HERALD

What a wild ride it’s been. And there’s still more to come. 

Now that we’ve all had some time to exhale, let’s take a moment to truly appreciate what has transpired these last few weeks.

Carroll’s prodigal son, the legendary Nick Nurse, has taken the Toronto Raptors to a place they’ve never been before, firmly entrenched in the NBA Finals.

Hold on, wait, what?

A passionate guy that never played any type of professional ball in the States, the youngest of eight children from the small, rural community of Carroll is coaching in the greatest basketball spectacle in the world, and not only coaching, but he’s the head honcho, matching up against Steve Kerr, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Kuemper Catholic graduate has the championship starved Raptors on the brink of immortality, a franchise down on its luck time and time again. And he achieved all that in his rookie year.

This can’t be real.

It’s fair to say no one within a 500 mile radius, or the entire world, for that matter, thought this would ever be a reality. That’s certainly no slight on Nurse’s ability and his passion (we know how talented he is at this point), but rural Midwestern towns don’t typically produce NBA conference champions. 

It’s an achievement that holds greater ramifications than most would realize. Not only is this a magnificent story for our city, but it’s a gigantic moment for the entire state of Iowa. Nurse is believed to be the first native Iowa to lead a team to the final round, on the edge of an NBA championship. He’s creating space in the Iowa history books that is sorely lacking.

There have been Iowans coaching in the NBA before, Fred Hoiberg and the Chicago Bulls immediately comes to mind, but he never even sniffed an accomplishment as great as this. Don Nelson graduated from the University of Iowa and likewise, Jeff Hornacek attended Iowa State, but neither were born here, and nor were they as instantly successful as Nick. There have been several NBA players as well, Harrison Barnes, an Ames High graduate won a title a few years ago with the Warriors, Raef Lafrentz and Kirk Hinrich are notable as well, but no Iowan has managed to do what Nurse has from the sidelines.

The 1985 Iowa High School basketball state champion was tasked with what some may deem unreasonable expectations as the 2018-19 season began, but he absolutely and emphatically delivered. As cliche as it sounds, overcoming varying amounts of adversity has been the biggest calling card of this playoff run.

“Looking back at the series we’ve played, I think some of the adjustments we made were really on the fly,” Nurse said during the NBA Finals media day Wednesday. “Maybe it wasn’t the exact coverage we were in, but someone would communicate a switch or non switch and make the next play. Against most teams in the NBA, you have to play that way.”

The way Nurse and the Raptors got here has been incredible, as well.

Toronto’s upper management fired the 2018 Coach of the Year (Dwane Casey) to roll the dice on a journeyman coach, praying and wishing he’d be the right man to lead them to the promised land.

Trading the beloved DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard has sure paid off, as he’s quickly shown the world how great of a player he truly is.

Those gambles are not unlike going full tilt in a game of poker, pushing all in on the final hand. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has been rewarded, handsomely, for those risks.

“(I have) to give Dwane Casey credit, he prepared us. It’s not something that started in one year. Dwane and DeMar Derozan are part of this,” Ujiri said Wednesday. “Nick has done a great job taking it from there. Building his own identity and building a team he wanted to coach in a certain way. It’s been a roller coaster some times. We’ve had really, really tough games. We are a hard working team and Nick has that persona and ethic that translates to everybody and the organization as a whole.”

The exhilarating journey has produced a wave of emotions, from elation to near-crippling anxiety and disappointment to uncontrollable jubilation once again. The Raptors found themselves trailing in each of their three series so far, but managed to bounce back and secure victory. Nurse’s elongated career in Europe and the NBA Developmental League has groomed him for moments like these, as he continually honed his exceptional flexibility. He tapped into his charismatic ways to recruit players, adapting his offense and defense, all while dealing with extreme roster turnover. He’s well equipped, and it’s obviously proven its worth these last few weeks.

“My goal early in being a head coach so young was to find out if I could do it. Then continue to keep learning,” Nurse said Wednesday in Toronto. “It was all valuable learning experiences for me. Running and managing a team. Figuring out team chemistry, lineups and schemes. I used a lot of it as a testing ground.

It was a really good laboratory. I recommend it for any young coach that head coaching experience. Being up in front of a team is important.”

Nurse always finds a way to reach his guys, and each time the Raptors have needed to turn things around this year, they’ve done so in a hurry.

No matter the outcome of this championship series between the awe-struck Raptors and the dynasty of Golden State, Nurse has done his hometown and state mighty proud.

This is his introduction to the world, and boy, are we ready for it.