The Nick Nurse Journey: From USD to NBA Champion

VERMILLION, SD— For the first time in franchise history the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions.

The man at the helm, rookie head coach Nick Nurse, was once a Men’s basketball assistant at the University of South Dakota.

“I saw him on an interview with PTI and he was making these little jokes and kind of laughing at himself,” said Gary Larson, former USD Women’s Head Basketball Coach. “That’s kind of the way he was here. He would make jokes and kind of laugh, and look to see if anybody else is laughing. He thought he was pretty funny. But that was Nick.”

Iowa native Nick Nurse’s 30-year journey to becoming an NBA champion head coach was an interesting one.

“People worry about their first job. I think he had 13 or 14 coaching jobs to finally get to Toronto,” said Larson.

Nurse came to USD as the assistant men’s basketball coach for Head Coach Dave Boots in 1993.

He also dabbled as an author.

“This thing called the ‘Black Book of Shooting,’” said Larson. “It went through shooting, shooting drills, and proper shooting technique. He had a bunch of charts, that you could photocopy to keep track of your score and see how you progressed.”

Nurse’s offensive knowledge vaulted Toronto’s offense to a top ten in the league.

But, it was Nurse’s personality that left a lasting impact at USD.

“Everybody I talk to about coach Nurse, said he loves basketball, great mind. I don’t think anybody that knows him is surprised about his success,” said Larson.

Nurse is one of only nine coaches to win an NBA Championship in his first season at the helm,  and if you ask Larson, a little blue-collar attitude had a lot to do with it.

“We were sitting with nothing to do one summer. I say, ‘hey why don’t you guys come help me scrap my house so I can paint it.’ So Nick and Brian came over and scrapped my house. So I guess the road to NBA stardom is to paint my house,” said Larson.

Coach Nurse is the only head coach to win both an NBA and G-League title; he won with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013.

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