Shootaround Access: Joerger Is Back Home... For Tonight | Jan. 31, 2014
Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Pelicans | Jan. 29, 2014
Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies | 7:00 PM — Target Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 WCCO-AM
This road game for Memphis head coach Dave Joerger is a little different than most.
After Friday morning’s shootaround session at the Target Center, Joerger addressed the Minnesota media, a group that he’s familiar with. He shook a few hands, gave a hug or two before saying with a smile, “I forgot how cold it is here.”
Joerger knows a thing or two about Minnesota cold. The Staples native graduated in 1992 from Staple-Motley High School. After that, he played at Concordia College (1993-94) and Moorhead State (1996-97). And now here he is back as an NBA head coach, coaching the team he rooted for as a kid.
“It’s very exciting. It’s very humbling,” Joerger said. “Certainly a dream come true to be able to come coach here, I remember coming to games and it was just the biggest deal in the world.”
He’s been coaching ever since his college basketball career, but the ride hasn’t exactly been on cruise control. He started out with the Dakota Wizards as an assistant coach from 1997-2000. He was promoted to head coach in 2000 and kept that title with the team until 2004. Joerger would bounce around the minor leagues until 2007, having incredible success. In his time in the minor leagues, Joerger won an IBA Championship (2001), three CBA Championships (2002, 2004, 2005), an NBA D-League Championship (2007) and was named CBA Coach of the Year twice (2002, 2004).
“In the minor leagues you’re just hoping to stay employed because if you get fired in the minor leagues you know, you don’t just run over to college because they are two different circles,” Joerger said. “You’re doing something else, you’re out of basketball.”
Well, what Joerger did at the lower levels kept him in basketball, and also got him a promotion. The Grizzlies gave Joerger an opportunity as an assistant in 2007, under head coach Marc Iavaroni.
There were a few rough years early on for Joerger, with the Grizzlies. The team traded Pau Gasol and the draft pick of Hasheem Thabeet. It was a rebuilding process. In 2011, the Grizzlies snagged the eighth seed in the West under head coach Lionel Hollins. It was the team’s first postseason appearance in five seasons. The Grizzlies made the most of it as the beat the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs 4-2. It was only the second time in a best-of-seven series that the No. 1 seed had been upset in the first round.
“Maybe after we beat San Antonio in the first round three, four years ago it started to be like maybe this is something…” Joerger said. “You don’t get to decide as a coach that you want to do it because somebody else has to come with a magic wand and touch you on the shoulder, so that was probably when it first started.”
That magic wand hit Joerger’s shoulder last offseason when the team parted ways with Hollins on June 10. Just 17 days later, the team named Joerger it’s new head coach.
So far, Joerger has had a busy season, with major injuries to Marc Gasol and Tony Allen and tons of moving pieces. With all of the practices, injuries and games, it was difficult for him to take a step back and look what he’s done. To look where he is.
“Today is very emotional for me as well for the first time to kind of like ‘whoa’ because this home,” Joerger said. “To have it happen here because there are so many games, practices, you’re just trying to survive so many injuries that I haven’t looked up and finally yesterday it did kind of hit me.”
While Joerger will be facing off against the team he grew up watching, there’s plenty of love coming from him when it comes to the state of Minnesota, a place that shaped who he is. He said that he expects to have around 30 people, family and friends, attending the game tonight.
“Tons, lots of requests,” Joerger said with a laugh “I gave everybody my brother’s phone number and had them call him and let him take care of it.”
Those friends and family will see an exciting game between two teams fighting to make the Western Conference playoffs. Joerger and his crew weathered the storm with Gasol in the lineup. The All-Star missed 24 games and clearly with Gasol on the court, the Grizzlies are a different team. With Gasol on the court, the Grizzlies are 14-7 and 7-1 in the last eight games.
“Certainly I think he’s the best the center in the league,” Joerger said. “He’s huge for use, huge.” The Grizzlies are benefited without having to face off against Nikola Pekovic, who is out with an ankle injury. Joerger will likely gameplan for Gasol and Zach Randolph to attack inside. He’ll be making in game adjustments and get into his zone. When opening buzzer sounds, Joerger will be in full game mode.
Don’t be surprised, though, if he looks up once or twice during the game to take it all in.
“It just feels like home.”
Welcome home, Dave.