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I think the game in general, is changing so fast in front of our eyes. It’s changed so much. The leadership I’ll bring is we have to be innovative. We have to think of what’s next. I’ve tried to make steps in my career where I am continually learning. That’s part of innovation. - Nick Nurse

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Toronto Raptors assistant Nick Nurse (right) is a 1985 Kuemper Catholic graduate and was introduced as the Toronto Raptors new head coach at a press conference Thursday, June 14. BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD
Toronto Raptors assistant Nick Nurse (right) is a 1985 Kuemper Catholic graduate and was introduced as the Toronto Raptors new head coach at a press conference Thursday, June 14. BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD

June 15, 2018

Welcome to the top, Nick.

A former high school superstar embodying the work ethic and passion of your typical Iowa has reached the pinnacle of his profession.

The Toronto Raptors introduced 1985 Kuemper Catholic graduate Nick Nurse as their new head coach Thursday via a live press conference.

It was a far cry from the cozy confines of a Carroll gym or the anonymity of the British Basketball League. The ninth coach in franchise history is perhaps its most well-traveled lead man to date.

Nurse spent the last five years as a Raptors assistant under the departed Dwane Casey, but also toiled in obscurity as a two-time D League champion, more than a decade overseas and on the bench of two college programs.

As Nurse took to the podium Thursday afternoon to address the media for the first time, his homegrown roots shone through brightly. He certainly didn’t make it to this point without a little help. He praised the guys who take the court each and every night.

“I’d like to thank the players,” Nurse said. “We’ve been together for five years. That’s five years of playoffs, of a lot of winning. There are a core there that deserve our thanks. There is a young group of guys, people doubted what really they could do. They worked extremely hard.”

He then touched on the impact of his predecessor, Dwane Casey, who is Toronto’s winingest coach and the 2018 Coach of the Year. Casey hired Nurse away from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013, a Houston Rockets D League affiliate, giving him a real shot at the NBA level.

“First of all, I need to mention Casey and thank him,” Nurse said. “We shared a lot of winning together. I learned a lot from him. You can’t take away the five years of what we’ve shared together. But, the success is in the playoffs.”

Raptors television broadcaster Paul Jones didn’t mince any words as he opened the press conference. He said everything Raptors faithful have been screaming from the roof tops. Jones immediately heaped lofty expectations on the NBA’s newest head coach.

“Over the past several years, we’ve watched this team and this city embrace winning at an extremely high level. I believe it’s fair to say everyone is hungry for more,” Jones said to a throng of reporters and viewers online. “Today marks a new chapter as the Raptors progress toward reaching the ultimate goal of an NBA championship. Nick Nurse has been a big part of the team’s growth, and is one of the bright strategic mind in today’s game. A winner wherever he goes.”

Nurse isn’t widely known among casual NBA fans, but he’s made the rounds as an assistant and was highly regarded within coaching circles.

Especially after the former Knight revamped Toronto’s offense this past season, increasing the volume of three-point shooting, improving the Raptors rank from 21st to fourth.

Toronto was the last of nine NBA teams with coaching vacancies to fill their opening. The other eight teams who have made hires this offseason include the New York Knicks, the Memphis Grizzles, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Orlando Magic, the Charlotte Hornets and the Phoenix Suns.

Nurse enters his new role with a clear vision in mind. Now is not the time to get complacent, even after the franchise’s best season to date - 59 wins, a No. 1 seed, top five offensively across the board but yet another sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I think the game in general, is changing so fast in front of our eyes. It’s changed so much. The leadership I’ll bring is we have to be innovative,” Nurse said. “We have to think of what’s next. I’ve tried to make steps in my career where I am continually learning. That’s part of innovation.

We want to be creative, it’s going to be uncomfortable at times. The season is a process. We want to try some ideas, try some different combinations to prepare us for the playoffs.”

First order of business is for Nurse to build his staff of assistants. Since the Raptors don’t have a single draft pick in next week’s NBA draft, Nurse can get picky with who he brings in. He’s in familiar waters, having been a head coach at several different levels before, which is a notion he feels should help him.

“Running the team from a basketball standpoint, it’s a big management position for things other than basketball,” Nurse said. “Being able to manage all that and being the leader is important. As long as I can get my team to the floor, we can get the basketball part right.

He continued, “It’s now my chance to do some evaluating and shuffle the pieces a little bit. I’m going for a certain look to the staff. There are some categories that I want to fill. I think it’s really important that we have an experienced staff. I value head coaching experience. It’s good to know what it’s like to run a team. We can channel their ideas.”

Nurse’s 27 years of innovation, picking up several championships along the way, across the world, was a big draw for Raptors team president Masai Ujiri. He also fell in love with Nurse’s mind for always evolving.

“Nick is an innovative coach who has a tremendous basketball IQ, and a unique approach to the x's and o's. We've valued his creativity and dedication as he focused on making our offense one of the best in the NBA, and we believe that he will bring those qualities to his new role as head coach,” Ujiri said in a Toronto Raptors news release. “This is an exciting and important season for the Raptors, and I believe Nick's strong leadership and focus on winning are qualities which will help lead us to our ultimate goal, which is a championship.”

Getting that title, climbing over the proverbial hump that is the second round of the NBA playoffs is a matter of stressing less on the volume of threes but correctly handling the personnel on the court, Nurse said.

“We think we know what we our offense is going to look like. To everyone’s credit, we made a really nice adjustment moving the ball. Our assists went up (this year),” the head coach said. “On defense, there are a lot of things we can do to get creative.

It all comes down to putting the players in the best position they can to be successful. Zone concepts, combined with man concepts. I’m trying to polish some of that up now.”

The 2018-19 NBA schedule has not been released, but typically is revealed in August. The Las Vegas Summer League runs July 7-17 while opening night is set for October 17.