Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Telegraph Herald in January.
Wayne Chandlee expected to feel a little out of place when his former player asked him to help evaluate talent at an NBA D-League preseason camp more than a decade ago.
Then, he watched as Nick Nurse put potential Iowa Energy players through nearly the exact same drills Chandlee used while coaching at Carroll Kuemper High School in the mid-1980s.
“It surprised me quite a bit to see that, but it made me feel pretty good that someone of that capacity at that level was using all of the drills we used at Kuemper,” said Chandlee, who later coached at Dubuque Senior for nearly a decade beginning in 1986. “It made me feel like they were pretty decent drills.
“We were always very fundamentally sound at Kuemper. We only had one man-to-man offense, one zone offense and the same with defense. It wasn’t very complex, but we practiced it hard all the time and did it well. That’s how we existed.”
Nurse took those fundamentals from his playing days at Kuemper all the way to a head coaching position in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors. The 51-year-old has led the Raptors (37-15) to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference in his rookie year as an NBA head coach after six years in the D-League and five more as an assistant in Toronto.
Nurse, who starred at the University of Northern Iowa from 1985-89 and graduated as the program’s record-holder in 3-point shooting percentage at .468 (170-for-363) in 111 games, served as an assistant coach at UNI for one season following graduation. He then served as a player-coach for the Derby Storm of the British Basketball League and he immediately called upon Chandlee for practice plans and diagrams of plays.
“This was, like, stuff written down on notebook paper that he sent me,” Nurse told www.sportsnet.ca earlier this season. “I’ve still got it somewhere.”
Nurse took his first full-time head coaching job at the ripe age of 23 at Grand View College. At the time, he was the youngest head coach in college basketball.
“It didn’t surprise me at all that Nick became a coach,” Chandlee said. “He was very much a quarterback out on the court. He always knew the game super well. He just had that mentality of being my coach on the floor. He wasn’t a real rah-rah guy, but he always knew the right things to say to his teammates.”
Nurse later spent 11 seasons coaching in Europe, primarily in the British Basketball League, before returning to the United States. He worked in the D-League with the Iowa Energy and later the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
And he still leans on his former high school coach. Chandlee helped Nurse evaluate players during his time in the D-League. This fall, Nurse arranged for Chandlee to attend the Raptors’ preseason training camp in Vancouver.
“It made me feel pretty good that he valued my opinion, even back when he was in the D-League,” Chandlee said. “Those guys are just a step below the NBA, and it’s not that big of a step. It’s an unbelievable level of skill and athleticism.
“I didn’t do as much in Vancouver because he had about 13 coaches there helping. But it was amazing to watch, especially Kawhi Leonard. He’s not only their hardest worker, but he’s also their smartest worker. He’s so fundamentally sound. He was fun to watch. And it was pretty cool to see him using some of the same drills we used when I was at Kuemper.”