With a potential deep playoff run cutting in on his summer, and with a new addition to his family on the way, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was on the fence when approached with an opportunity to lead Canada’s men’s basketball team back in April.
That changed when his wife, Roberta, insisted he go for it.
“My wife and family had to support it,” said Nurse. “It was about 65 per cent (I would take it) and then when my wife said, ‘100 per cent you take that job.”’
Canada Basketball announced Nurse’s hiring on Monday, less than two weeks after he guided the Raptors to their first NBA championship. The Iowa native is tasked with the responsibility of trying to lead the men’s team to their first Olympics since 2000 when the FIBA Basketball World Cup starts Aug. 31 in China.
Having Olympic experience will be an asset for Nurse, who served as an assistant for Great Britain at the 2012 Games.
“I thought the years leading up to that were some of the most valuable experience in my own growth as a coach,” Nurse said.
With a growing roster of homegrown talent, Canada Basketball general manager Rowan Barrett felt a championship-calibre coach was the last piece of the Olympic puzzle.
“Definitely having a coach like Nick Nurse, an NBA champion on the sideline … if there’s any concern or question about the level of concern about whether our coach can get it done, that’s going to be a positive for our players, for sure,” Barrett said.
There haven’t been firm commitments from players yet for the World Cup, but Barrett doesn’t expect any of Canada’s past issues with recruitment to be a problem.
“To this point, I haven’t had any players tell us that they’re not playing,” Barrett said.
The World Cup will qualify seven teams directly into the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Nurse’s contract with Canada Basketball will take him through to the end of those Games.
Canada is in Group H at the World Cup, along with Senegal, Lithuania and Australia.
In addition to his family – he and his wife welcomed a son, Rocky, during the playoffs – Nurse received the go-ahead from the Toronto Raptors to take the task and was insistent he wouldn’t take the job if there were any conflicts with his NBA commitments.
He plans to lead Canada with the same versatility that led the Raptors to a title.
“One of the challenges we’re going to have is to make sure we piece it together right,” Nurse said. “We’re going to need scorers, role players, defenders, shot blockers, we’re going to have to piece it together so we can be versatile. Like with the Raptors, one series we were playing big, another series we were playing small.”
The summer isn’t all work and no play for Nurse, who has been able to take some time to enjoy his new rock-star status in Toronto.
Nurse, who has been known to take his guitar with him to every Raptors road trip, joined Hamilton-based band The Arkells at Budweiser Stage on Saturday night to play a Stevie Wonder hit.
“It’s been the hardest week of the season, this past week, but it was super enjoyable as well,” Nurse said smiling. “The Saturday night thing was exactly like the (Raptors championship) parade but five hours shorter.”
Gordie Herbert of Penticton, B.C., who led Canada to a pair of victories during the second window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup will be on Nurse’s staff as an assistant. Nurse is expected to fill out the rest of his Canada Basketball staff in the coming days.
The organization hopes the recruitment of Nurse, along with the Raptors’ NBA title, will bring more corporate dollars to the program.
“Taking the team to China, those flights with NBA guys, you know that’s not going to be cheap. We’re going to make sure our players are flying first class. They’re flying in style and can rest,” Barrett said. “They shouldn’t have their knees beside their ears to get to China because we can’t afford to foot the bill. We need support from the corporations. Looking at that parade, Canada has spoken. My hope is that corporations are listening. If you want diversity, it’s there”