Pacers' Bjorkgren says Raptors' Nurse taught him to coach 'without fear'

Former Raptors assistant coach, now head coach of the Indiana Pacers Nate Bjorkgren takes us in the room after getting the job, discussing his emotions and excitement, and what about this team made him covet this job so badly.

The Indiana Pacers officially introduced Nate Bjorkgren as the team’s new head coach Wednesday during a digital press conference.

Bjorkgren had spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, winning a championship alongside Nick Nurse in 2019, and the Storm Lake, Iowa native spoke highly of his former colleague before taking questions from the media.

“Coach Nurse was always great at giving me a ton of responsibility very early in my career,” Bjorkgren told reporters Wednesday morning. “He’s great with his players, he’s great with his coaches. He wants to see everybody succeed at the highest level and I want to thank him.

“I’ve been able to coach with him, coach against him over the years and it’s been an honour and I learned a lot and I’m ready to take this next step forward.”

In addition to their time with the Raptors, Bjorkgren and Nurse, who both grew up in Iowa, coached together on the Iowa Storm (now the Iowa Wolves) from 2007-2011 in the NBA G League.

Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard said “we wanted someone of high character” and “somebody who has won” at the highest level to coach the team. After a thorough search, the organization decided Bjorkgren was the right person for the job.

The Pacers have qualified for the playoffs in nine of the past 10 seasons yet haven’t gotten out of the opening round since 2014.

“There are people in this world that can bring energy and they make you feel better about yourself,” Pritchard said of Bjorkgren. “They are around you, you like being around them. I think the litmus test is when one of those guys calls you, you can’t wait to pick up the phone and so to me Nate has those characteristics.”

Bjorkgren was asked about Nurse’s coaching style and whether or not he’d implement some similar strategies on his new team – specifically taking risks at both ends of the court.

“It’s coaching without fear and that’s something that coach Nurse and I have spent a lot of time on over the years,” Bjorkgren explained. “I started coaching with him 14 year ago and, I’ve told this story a number of times, but after that first (G League) season together we spent 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., 12-hour days, we had a basement, we had white boards all over the walls and we spent every waking second on how we wanted to coach professional basketball.

“It’s not about being crazy and just throwing something out there just to throw it out there on defence. It’s about making the changes at the right time and developing that confidence in the players that they’re going to believe in you, believe in each other and when it’s time to change defences, even though it may not feel it at the time and we’re on an 8-0 run but man that’s the best time to do it. You keep mixing things up, so that’ll be something I’ll be in constant communication with our players.”

Bjorkgren added that the task of assembling his staff of assistants is currently underway.

The Pacers had been looking for a new head coach since Nate McMillan was fired in late August.

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