Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse had barely finished celebrating the team’s first NBA title in June when he took on his next formidable challenge — guiding Canada in the Basketball World Cup.
After just two months on the job the 52-year-old American is hoping to mastermind a surprise by the Canadians when the tournament starts August 31 in China.
Nurse’s task is made more demanding, however, because Canada have been placed in a “Group of Death” also containing Senegal, Lithuania and Australia.
Canada, who will be outsiders to triumph at the World Cup, finished 3-2 in a five-game exhibition tour in Australia, having split two home games against Nigeria.
Following an 84-68 defeat to World Cup holders the United States on Monday in Sydney, Nurse said: “I’ve learned a lot about them (the players).
“I’m a new coach (for this team) and they’re still trying to learn me, I think, and we’ve made a lot of progress.
“I think our guys have made a lot of strides, play hard, have chemistry.”
Nurse won’t have the American Kawhi Leonard on his Canada bench, as he did when the Raptors dethroned the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
He will also have to do without Canada’s top young player, the 19-year-old NY Knicks forward RJ Barrett, who was a late withdrawal.
But the Canadians have talent and, crucially, a respected leader with international experience.
Nurse was an assistant on the British team for the 2012 London Olympics, and a coach in the British Basketball League for 11 seasons.
He guided championship squads with the Birmingham Bullets in 1996 and Manchester Giants in 2000. He took the BBL Coach of the Year award in 2000 and 2004.
After a return to coaching US NBA developmental clubs, Nurse spent five seasons as a Raptors assistant before taking charge in 2018.
He was just the ninth rookie coach in NBA history to lead a team to the title and the Canadians will be hoping that he can inspire something similar in the national team.
Nurse will also be in position to guide Canada at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
He refused to press the panic button after Monday’s loss to the USA, who are chasing a third World Cup title in a row.
“You don’t play great every night,” he said.
“We just flush this one away and get back to what we’re doing.”