The former Kuemper Catholic Knight was back on the hardwood Dec. 11 in LA, doing what he does best, leading his team to victory, following the instructions from the woman he knew best.
The victory over the Los Angeles Clippers was different than any win prior for the Toronto Raptors’ head coach. The late Marcella Nurse’s angelic hand guided the Canadian ball club to a dominant road victory in the city of Angels, just one night after she was taken from the world.
Her youngest, Nick, had a difficult time focusing on his job so far from home but knew this is where Mom would’ve pushed him to be.
A son always listens to his mother, you see.
“Mom wanted an easy one,” Nurse said Wednesday evening following the 24-point win.
Marcella, 94, passed away Dec. 11 at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll. That night, Nick was pacing the sidelines in LA, his mind obviously back in Iowa.
His players could feel the magnitude of the moment as well, latching onto Nurse a few months into the job. They’ve come to appreciate how much family means to the Carroll native.
The Raptors knew as well to never disobey a mom, especially one who quarterbacked nine kids around the household.
“His mother is in our prayers,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said in a post-game interview from LA. “She put a lot of basketballs in (the hoop) tonight. (Nick) said before the game she would’ve kicked his butt if he wasn’t here.
“That’s a tough moment, but it just shows you the type of person and the toughness he has in his family to show up tonight. It was a good win for us and a good win for him and his family.”
Marcella, 94, was a pillar of stability, one that brought Nurse home to Carroll even when he was coaching halfway around the world. Marcella was born June 4, 1924 on a farm west of Churdan. She graduated from Churdan High School in 1941. The mother raised nine children with her husband, the late Maury (he passed in 2015) in Carroll, where she lived for 64 years.
They could almost field two starting lineups, something I doubt even Nick would be able to pull off. It’s fairly difficult to coach two teams simultaneously, but Marcella and Maury did it quite well.
I had a chance to speak with Marcella this summer just days after her youngest son was announced as the Raptors’ newest head coach. The soft-spoken but sweet mother was proud, but certainly not in awe of what Nick had been able to achieve. The two bonded often. Nick, 51, was in Carroll at least a handful of times over the summer and even was in his hometown when the blockbuster trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto went down. Nick never missed a chance to come home, hosting basketball camps, and making appearances in local fundraisers or just visiting on holiday weekends.
Nick Nurse and his mom
Marcella shared a strong bond
Marcella often returned the favor, visiting England a dozen times while her son was winning championships in the British Basketball League.
Coaching in Tuesday’s game against the LA Clippers was a nobrainer for Nick, even as he battled conflicting emotions.
“I’m here because my mother wouldn’t want it any other way,” Nurse said before the game in an interview aired on NBA TV. “I’ll coach the game and the next one tomorrow and then we’ll get back and take care of business.”
Nick was the active type of kid who enjoyed competition at its highest level. He craved action of any kind, which led him to not only star on the 1985 Kuemper Catholic state basketball championship team but also as starting quarterback, a pitcher and, get this, a pole vaulter for the track and field team. He formed countless hoop battles in the pool of the Carroll Country Club each summer, sparking lifelong friendships, even with kids from Carroll High across town. Nick’s always known how to captivate a crowd.
Marcella supported him through all this, attending as many events as she could, the definitive ‘soccer mom.’ She racked up quite the box score over the years, solidifying herself as the MVP of the large Iowa family.
“She had a big impact, because she had nine of us and I was the last one,” the former Kuemper Catholic point guard said prior to Tuesday’s contest in LA. “Lots of games — 94 years, nine kids and about 80,000 games watched are her final stats.”
Even though Nick has been primarily on the road these past 25 years, criss-crossing the globe in an effort to chase his dream job — which he finally achieved this past June when he was tabbed as Dwane Casey’s replacement in Toronto — he knew a hearty, home-cooked meal was always waiting for him back home in Carroll. Marcella loved to cook for her children, giving them a sense of home each time they returned.
As the rookie head coach of the Toronto Raptors, Nurse has his team humming at a record pace. The former UNI Panther captured Eastern Conference coach-of-the-month honors following a torrid November. As of this writing Thursday morning, the Raptors sat at 23-7 overall, the best record in the entire NBA. They emphatically announced their status among the elite with a 20-point thrashing of the two-time defending champion Golden StateWarriorsWednesday night in Oakland, the second night of a back-to-back.
After the game Dec. 11, a comfortable 123-99 victory in favor of the league-leading Raptors, Nurse was reflective, if not a bit relieved. He secured a relatively easy victory for his mom, just how she would’ve come to expect.
“It definitely was (a bit of an escape),” Nurse said in his post-game interview. “It was a pretty relaxing game for me. I told the team before the game, there are a million ways to win a basketball game; we have to find one tonight.
“That’s No. 1 to jump out to an early lead and hold it the whole game.”
Nick made a final visit to his mother Thursday afternoon, less than 12 hours after guiding his Rap-tors to victory in the Bay Area. Last Wednesday’s game with the Warriors ended well after 12 a.m. Carroll time the morning of Dec. 13.
Typical to his life’s journey on the hardwood, a little obstacle like that would do little to stop his latest mission. Nurse hopped on a plane as quickly as he could and was in town to help carry the casket of the late Marcella, along with his five brothers, Steve, Tom, Ken, Dan and Jim.
Soon, Nick will be back on the sidelines, leading his family of 10, hopefully someday reaching the pinnacle, a place his mom settled long ago.
That’s true dedication, a little something Nick picked up from his mother some 51 years prior.