UNI grad Nick Nurse named NBA’s top coach

UNI graduate and current Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2019-2020 season. Nurse also won an NBA championship with the Raptors in 2019.

COLIN HORNING, Sports Editor

He started as a student assistant coach for the University of Northern Iowa. Now he’s the NBA’s Coach of the Year for 2020.

Toronto Raptors head coach and University of Northern Iowa alumnus Nick Nurse was named the NBA’s coach of the year on August 22. In only his second season as an NBA head coach, Nurse has now claimed the NBA’s Coach of the Year award along with winning an NBA title with the Raptors in 2019. He beat out Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Billy Donnovan with 90 first-place votes cast by 100 sports writers and commentators from around the NBA.

Born and raised in Carroll, Iowa, Nurse attended Kuemper-Catholic high school before attending the University of Northern Iowa and playing on the men’s basketball team from 1985-1989, appearing in 111 total games for the Purple and Gold. He is currently the school’s all-time three-point percentage leader at nearly 47%. After his playing career at UNI, Nurse became a student assistant coach for the 1989-1990 season in which the Panthers made their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Nurse’s rise to coaching prominence was no doubt a long and unconventional path. He landed his first head coaching job at Grand View University in Des Moines when he was only 23 years old, which at the time made him the youngest collegiate head coach in the country. After a short stint as an assistant coach for the University of South Dakota, Nurse spent 11 seasons as a head coach in the British Basketball League, or BBL. He would win two BBL championships and two BBL Coach of the Year awards during his time as a coach.

Nurse returned to the United States in 2007 to coach the newly-formed Iowa Energy of the NBA D-league (the development league for the NBA). The Energy won two division titles and a D-League championship in 2011 with Nurse at the helm, and Nurse himself won D-League Coach of the Year in the 2011 season. He would win another D-League championship two years later, this time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Nurse’s long track record of head coaching success in the lower-levels of basketball would catch the eye of the Toronto Raptors, whose head coach Dwayne Casey decided to bring Nurse on as an assistant coach before the 2013 season. After the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by the Lebron James-lead Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018, Toronto fired Casey and promoted Nurse to the head coaching role. In his first season as the head coach in Toronto, Nurse led the Raptors through the Eastern Conference playoffs and to the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance, where they would defeat the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games.