As his Q&A with 600 local basketball coaches marched past the 30-minute mark, one coach in the crowd asked Nick Nurse if he still had time to talk.
“Yeah, sure. I’ve got all day,” Nurse said, drawing laughs from an audience that would have been more than happy to take him up on the offer.
Headlining the Raptors’ Coaches Open House, Nurse capped a Sunday morning that let coaches of varying levels interact with him and his staff. The guests were also able to watch the defending NBA champs practice at Scotiabank Arena.
Coaching clinics were a big part of Nurse’s sideline development. After he finished his playing career at Northern Iowa, he moved to the team’s bench as an assistant. That launched a career that would take him to England, into the NAIA, the NCAA, back to Europe and eventually into the G League, before he became an assistant with the Raptors in 2013.
“Back in the day (attending clinics was) probably a little more popular than it is today,” he said.
“The coaches clinics were going on a lot, especially in the fall. I’m not sure it happens anymore but we used to spend the whole summer doing this stuff. One camp after the next (when) coaches were holding camps back in the summertime. That was a good education way back when, back in the ’80s.”
In leading his second Open House, Nurse’s approach to the event hasn’t changed, but his place in the Canadian basketball landscape has. After becoming the head coach of Canada’s senior men’s team, a day spent working with coaches that will impact youth basketball has a deeper meaning than it did a year ago.
“I always have it as a high importance that if anybody wants to know things about coaching we always try to give them as much information we can and get them get them started, keep them interested,” Nurse said.
“We try to build kind of a right-way-to-play mentality as far down the grassroots as we can.”
During his conversation with the coaches, Nurse told a great story about meeting his coaching idol, Phil Jackson last summer after he was named the Raptors head coach. He spent three days with Jackson in Montana and it sounds like some of the legendary coach’s philosophies aligned with Nurse’s.
“At the last dinner…we were sitting in these rocking chairs outside and he says, ‘I want to leave you with two things before you go,’” Nurse said.
“The first one he said was don’t underestimate the basketball gods. You’ve been hired to make the decisions that are best for the team at all times.
“The second thing is I want you to imagine you’ve got a sword. One end is sharp and you’re going to have to prod these guys. You’re going to have to get on their asses, you’re going to have to push them, you’re going to have to make them play, you’re going to have to get them to guard, you’re going to have to get them to do stuff.
“Every now and then I want you turn that sword around and look at the handle and that handle is going to represent compassion. That you understand where they come from and what they’re going through. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.”
When it came down to the Xs and Os of the game, Nurse hoped that the team’s visitors came away with the basics of what he’s doing with his own team. There’s a difference in skill level but the fundamentals from Sunday’s practice can work with any team.
“I hope the biggest thing they get is they can understand the importance of team defence. They can see some of the drills that we put in to develop that and foundationally build it,” Nurse said.
“Then also understand what we’re trying to do on offence with spacing and moving the ball. All the drills that lead up to that, you get to see the finished product or the whole, as we as we call it in education. We showed them the parts here that get you to the whole.
“Hopefully they take that with them and take it back to their teams. We think it’s a good way to teach basketball, how to play every position, how to read the games. I think that makes for better players down the line.”