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Players in the Pros: Nick Nurse goes from NAIA assistant coach to NBA Champion

Nick Nurse has been successful at every stage of his career. The Toronto Raptors’ Head Coach put in time at every level of coaching and worked his way to the top. In his 30-year career, Nurse  coached 15 teams in five countries, including the NAIA’s own Grand View University (Des Moines, Iowa), as a head coach. 

The Iowa native played basketball at the University of Northern Iowa before beginning his coaching career. Nurse was the player-coach for the Derby Storm in England and was named to the staff at  Grand View, serving in that capacity from 1991 through 1993.After the two year stint, he continued to ascend the coaching ranks to a career in pro basketball both in Europe and the NBA D-League.

Among Nurse’s first moves was to email the Iowa Energy owner Jerry Crawford to thank him for setting the wheels in motion on his NBA career. It was Crawford who took a chance on him, after spending 11 years coaching in Europe, when he formed the Energy in Des Moines, Iowa in 2007.

After four years with the Energy, Nurse took a position at Rio Grande Valley (Texas)because he felt it provided a better path to the NBA. The Northern Iowa graduate was quickly rewarded after going 59-41 in two seasons there.

Nurse went on to win the D-League Championship while leading Rio Grande Valley. This helped led him to the next level as he was named assistant coach of the Toronto Raptors in 2013. Nurse coached directly under Dwane Casey until Casey was dismissed in 2018-2019 season.

At the age of 51, Nurse achieved his lifelong goal when Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri named him  head coach of the franchise.

Nurse guided Toronto to the franchise’s first appearance in the finals in his first season as an NBA head coach, only to face the Golden State Warriors, which has won three of the past four NBA titles. A tall order, but the rookie head coach proved to be the right man at the right time for the Raptors

On Thursday night Nurse led the Raptors to bring home the franchise’s first championship after a 114-110 victory over the Golden State Warriors, an example of no matter where you start, how building on a strong work ethic can take you places you may never dream of. For Nurse, it was an NBA title.