Through obscure roads and creative tactical decisions, Nick Nurse is already earning the respect of his players
Patrick Beverley had a decision to make. And not the type of life decision that most 20-year-olds face.
He confessed to turning in a class paper written by a tutor at the University of Arkansas. The lapse in judgment put a massive fork in Beverley's road.
He could accept Arkansas' suspension from basketball for his junior season, staying away from the game he loved for a year. Or, he could go pro.
"My decision was going overseas or staying in the D-League, at the time," Beverley told reporters at his introductory press conference with the Sixers on Monday.
"Me and my mom sit down with this coach, I guess he was the coach for the Iowa Energy at the time. It was Nick Nurse. I had to tell him to his face, 'Yeah, I'm not coming to your D-League team'. Fast forward four or five years from now. Houston Rockets. I'm in the D-League. I'm playing for [Rio Grande Valley Vipers]."
Joining the Vipers marked another intersection between Beverley and Nurse, albeit one almost as brief as the first. While their time together in Rio Grande Valley was extremely short, the guard and the coach kept a watchful eye on one another over the years.
"So, he was great. He knows basketball. You know, his background pedigree comes form Europe. That's always respected," Beverley said.
"I like what he does; ton of threes, playing fast. But, in order to play fast, you have to get stops also. He's a championship coach. He's done it at a high level and he's done it in the East, which is hard."
Beverley and Nurse share obscure paths to the NBA. Beverley spent years in Ukraine, Greece, and Russia before finally getting his crack at the NBA. Nurse, on the other hand, spent more than a decade coaching in Europe, winning championships in the British Basketball League before coaching in Belgium for a season.
There was no high draft selection or guaranteed money at signing for Beverley. There was no video coordinator role or assistant coaching position for Nurse to start from and work his way up to the top chair on an NBA bench.
They both cut their teeth overseas, and that's part of why they remain hungry now after accomplishing so much, respectively.
It's why Beverley, even at 35 years old, is still trying to find ways to grow his game. He's in the weight room four times per week; he takes the court three or four times per week, too.
"You got to understand, my road to get here was very different than anyone else's. My road to get here was predicated on a foundation that was built on hard work," Beverley said.
While you can never question Beverley's love for the game, Mo Bamba knows there are people who doubt his love for basketball. In fact, he thinks that sentiment is perhaps the biggest misconception about him as a basketball player.
But, you could tell very quickly on Monday, standing in the lobby of the Sixers' training complex in Camden with your head tilted up to the sky in an effort to make eye contact with the towering big man, that Bamba loves the game of basketball. His IQ and understanding of the game pour out of his mouth when he talks.
Bamba has a very clear memory of how Nurse made tactical adjustments to help the Raptors win a championship in 2019.
"I had a great conversation with Coach Nurse. He joked around with me. He said every time we played the Raps, I played well, that I had it out for him. But, we had a great conversation. I know that he's one of the most creative coaches since I've been in the league, with the lineups that he's put out there," Bamba said.
"If you look at his championship lineup back in 2018-19 when I came into the league, he played a lot of two bigs. He played a lot of Serge [Ibaka] and Marc Gasol at the four-five slots. He made it work. His creativity and watching him blossom as one of the most respected coaches in the league has been fun to watch."
Bamba understands that inconsistency is part of why his career has devolved to signing for the veteran minimum at 25 years old. "Listen, I understand what's going on here and understand that nothing will be given, everything will be earned," he told Nurse in a recent phone call.
"[The double big lineup] is not necessarily something we talked about. But, we talked a little bit about just vision and where he saw the team going and how he likes to play. I know he likes to play fast. We talked a little bit more about the position I play and what I prefer to do, and about how things went in Orlando as far as playing with another big," Bamba said.
"It's just a really encouraging conversation I had with coach and I'm looking forward to seeing him in probably a few days here."
Nurse has barely had a cup of coffee in Philadelphia. But, he's already captured the respect and attention of the Sixers' two free-agent signings.