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I was absolutely thrilled for him. I couldn’t be happier. It couldn’t have happened to a more well deserving guy. - 1985 Kuemper Catholic grad Brian David

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BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD
Nick Nurse is a 1985 Kuemper Catholic graduate and was recently introduced as the newest Toronto Raptors head coach Thursday, June 14. The  Nurse was trusted with revamping the Raptors offense this year, which produced a franchise record 59 wins.
BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD Nick Nurse is a 1985 Kuemper Catholic graduate and was recently introduced as the newest Toronto Raptors head coach Thursday, June 14. The Nurse was trusted with revamping the Raptors offense this year, which produced a franchise record 59 wins.

June 15, 2018

When news broke, his most important mentor was nowhere to be found.

That’s because the great Wayne Chandlee was carving up the crisp waters of northern Canada on an annual fishing trip Tuesday, where cellphone service was nonexistent.

Two days later as Nick Nurse was introduced as the next Toronto Raptors head coach, Chandlee still hadn’t spoken personally to his blossoming prodigy.

But that didn’t worry him. Like so many times before, he had complete faith in his former point guard.

Coaching stints spanning the globe have put Nurse at the pinnacle of his profession, thanks to a number of characteristics that set him apart. He emits an unrivaled passion for basketball, innovation as well as a distinct knack for winning.

While Chandlee was just crossing the border into the United States Thursday, having spent several days 400 miles north of Winnipeg, he took time to reflect on Nurse’s career. Chandlee coached at Kuemper Catholic High School for 12 years, compiling a 199-76 record (72.3 winning percentage), including four state tournament appearances and a title with Nurse at the helm of the offense, ball in hand.

“(He) has created a lot of things,” Chandlee said. “He has won wherever he goes. He works extremely hard. He’s definitely a winner.

“He is great at doing so many things. He always put in more time than everyone else.”

Nurse, a 1985 Kuemper graduate, was officially introduced to the public Thursday during a live press conference, joined by Raptors team president Masai Ujiri. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Nurse signed a three-year contract, for $10 million.

“Congratulations, Nick. This is a great time for us. We have felt very comfortable with not only the candidates, but the eventual head coach,” Ujiri said to a crowd of reporters in the Air Canada Centre. “I think Nick didn’t only show us some of the things he’ll bring to us, but his history with the team, his thought process, his creativity and strategy within the game.

“He’s Innovative. It’s really exciting for us. It was a long process, and I’m happy we came to this.”

Nurse’s mom, Marcella Nurse, has lived in Carroll for more than 60 years. She’s seen almost everything. The wait she endured for word of her son’s next gig, was grueling, but well worth it.

“The anticipation was just something you wouldn’t imagine,” she said.

Her son was intrigued with the intricacies of sports from day one. And he excelled at them too. In addition to starring on the basketball team, he was also the varsity quarterback, pitched on the baseball team, and even did pole vault in track and field. Nick lives for competition.

“He was always busy, trying to learn about all kinds of sports,” Marcella said.

The Raptors let go of former head coach Dwane Casey following a 59-win season, the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, while also trotting out a top-five offense. It all came to a screeching halt in the second round of the playoffs as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers swept Toronto for the second straight year, which led Casey to the door. The Canadian franchise pegged Nurse as the heir, a man who’s only new to an NBA top spot. His nearly three-decade-long career has sent him overseas as a head coach, into the D-League (now called the G League) and even a few stints in college. The lessons he learned at those stops were rattling around inside Nurse’s head Thursday as he took to the mic.

“It feels pretty good. Twenty-seven years in coaching. The last month was a long month as well,” Nurse said, acknowledging the stressful hiring process he endured following Casey’s firing. “(The Raptors) had a process and some due diligence to do. To be honest, it never really bothered me that month of waiting.”

The 50-year-old head coach is the ultimate grinder, and has definitely put in the time. Ask anyone who knows the former University of Northern Iowa Panther, and they’ll point out two things: His love for the game of basketball and how he never gives up on his dreams.

That dedication was never more apparent than at Thursday’s press conference. When asked how he celebrated his new job, Nurse was fairly tame. Besides a trip to England with his son Noah last week, he kept it pretty simple.

“There wasn’t much celebration,” Nurse said. “(I called) the people that are close to (me) and then things start coming at you pretty quick.”

The former Grand View University head coach was an assistant with the Raptors for five years before his promotion. Anticipation of an announcement grew over recent weeks, and it was nothing his friends and family didn’t already expect.

Nurse’s former teammate, Brian David, who in 1985 helped Nurse bring Kuemper its only state basketball title, knew this day was bound to come.

“I was absolutely thrilled for him. I couldn’t be happier,” David said in a phone interview Thursday. “It couldn’t have happened to a more well deserving guy.”

The former Knight stays in close contact with his lifelong friend. For Nurse’s 50th birthday last summer, the pair traveled to Chicago, where they took in an array of baseball games at Wrigley Field. They’ve stayed close throughout the years. Naturally, Nurse’s success didn’t come as a surprise. He saw the inklings of a special mind some 30 years ago on the hardwood in Carroll.

“I think I realized it very early on because he was so passionate about it,” said David, who went on from Kuemper to play for the University of Arizona Wildcats. “He was willing to stay with it, he cared so much about basketball. He’s put in his time.”

Though David is now director of sales at Ingram Content group, a publishing company in Nashville, Tennessee, he still tries to keep a pulse on Carroll. This week’s news is sure to give a jolt to the sports-crazy city, he said.

“I think it means a lot. The entire community is going to be proud,” the former KHS all-time leading scorer said. “I told everyone I could, he will get an NBA head-coach job soon.”

Nurse’s Iowa roots have never wavered as he’s climbed the coaching ladder. He’s still humble even when he returns to Carroll for class reunions.

Retired Kuemper Athletic Director Dan Balk ran into Nurse a few years back.

“I thought it was so great he made it a point to talk to every person and every faculty member,” Balk said. “Not a lot of people do that. He’s a very unique person.”

Balk was AD in Carroll for 16 years, and remembers the Knights’ magical ride to the state championship well. Nurse’s knack for success has stayed with him for more than 30 years, and Balk doesn’t see it disappearing anytime soon.

“He was long-overdue for a head-coaching job. I was shocked that he hadn’t been chosen yet, even at the college level,” Balk said. “I have great appreciation for his ability (to coach). If he has the personnel, I think he’ll do great things.”

Though Nurse is now in an elite club with only 29 other NBA head-coach members, awaiting hundreds of media requests per year, heavy TV time and essentially being given the keys to the organization, David expects him to stay as humble as he’s been for the past 50 years. Even in his press conference, Nurse was more appreciative than boastful, outside of putting his analytic mind on display. He’s as well-rounded as they come, his friend said.

“Nick was the point guard, he was ‘Mr. Iowa,’” David said. “He was involved in all sports. He was a leader.

“This isn’t going to change him. Nick’s going to be Nick. He’ll always be who he is.”

Nurse’s role as a point guard and as a sharpshooter (he holds the UNI record for highest career 3-point percentage) has meshed well with the coaching profession, David feels.

“(Point guards) get it. They are the coach on the floor,” his friend said. “And I think that’s why it translates so well to coaching.

“I wish him the utmost success,” David continued. “I look forward to seeing him on the sidelines as an NBA head coach. That just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?”