Dave Boots had an opening for an assistant coach.
The 1992-93 season had just ended for Boots, who had guided the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
Things were riding high in Vermillion, and so the phone calls started.
One was from Nick Nurse, the 25-year-old head coach at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.
“He called and expressed an interest, and I could tell right away during our interview that I wanted to hire him,” said Boots, who retired in 2013 after a 25-year Hall of Fame career that saw him win 503 games at USD.
“With your assistants, you want everyone to be on the same page and to have the same goals in mind.”
Nurse was, in fact, eventually hired by Boots, and spent the next two seasons (1993-94 and 1994-95) in Vermillion before venturing out to continue his own head coaching career.
Nearly a quarter-century later, Nurse was hoisting the NBA championship trophy on Thursday as head coach of the Toronto Raptors who beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Not one to typically watch NBA games, Boots — who now lives in Minnesota — found himself watching every minute of the NBA Finals in support of his former assistant.
“Watching his demeanor and how he handles himself, it was exactly the same guy we had,” Boots said Friday. “He has such a nice presence on the bench and he’s always in control of himself.”
Nurse, who grew up in Iowa, played college basketball at Northern Iowa and then had a playing career over in England before taking over at Grand View — Boots’ Coyotes squad had actually played Grand View (and won by 41 points) the season before Nurse came to Vermillion.
Nurse then quickly established himself as a reliable and sharp assistant coach for USD, which returned to the Elite Eight in 1994 and then won 20 games in 1995.
“He was a young coach, but you could tell he had the knowledge of the game and was passionate about it,” Boots said. “Like all assistant coaches, he studied the game, but Nick really did; in every detail.”
When the opportunity arrived following the 1994-95 season for Nurse to return to England, Boots was fully on board, he said.
“We always ran it in such a way that if a guy was presented with a really good opportunity to become a head coach, we wanted them to pursue it,” Boots said.
And so, Nurse spent the next six years as the coach of four different teams in England, and was later named the head coach in 2007 of the Iowa Energy of the NBA D-League (now the NBA G League).
That stint — and two years (2011-13) with another G League team — helped pave the way for Nurse to join the NBA ranks in 2013 as an assistant with the Toronto Raptors.
“He went the hard way, with a lot of steps along the way,” Boots said. “For guys to make it at that kind of a level, the players have to be able to relate to them and respect them.”
Last summer when Nurse was promoted to head coach in Toronto, the Dave Boots coaching tree had expanded.
According to Boots, that tree now includes approximately 30 for former players or assistants who have gone on to become head coaches in their own right, at every level.
“So many of our guys have done so well, and not even just in coaching,” Boots said.
“That’s the most satisfying thing I get out of what I did for so long, is the success of those guys. It’s very rewarding.”
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