Dave Joerger is the lead assistant for coach Lionel Hollins with the Memphis Grizzlies. They open play in the Western Conference finals on Sunday in San Antonio.
If some Brooklyn Nets fans have their way, this playoff run will be Joerger’s final résumé builder to becoming an NBA head coach. A group calling itself “Nets Fans Against Mediocrity” has started a petition drive to convince management to hire the 39-year-old Joerger.
That hiring would create quite a headline in a future edition of the Staples World, the weekly monitor of Joerger’s hometown. Dave was a kid in Staples in the 1980s when the Cardinals were powerful in most every sport on the high school agenda.
“There were 20 years or more when I don’t think there were many high school athletic programs in the country better than Staples-Motley, when you consider the size of the school,” Joerger said. “Wrestling, basketball, tennis, football …
“There were a lot of people who cared — coaches who were young and got people involved. They developed the winning tradition.”
Here in the Twin Cities, 140 miles southeast, the most famous of the Cardinals were Arden Beachy, and his brothers Colin and Ryan. Arden was a star as a quarterback, in basketball and in track and field in the late ’80s.
“It was a decade before that when it really started for Staples in basketball,” Joerger said. “Riewer and Wolhowe.”
Lynn Peterson was hired as the basketball coach in 1979. John Riewer and Craig Wolhowe were sophomores. Over the next three winters, the Cardinals went 64-10 and to a pair of state tournaments.
“We had those two outstanding winter sports — basketball and wrestling — but there was no competition,” Joerger said. “Everyone was in it together; to keep the winning tradition going.”
That included the parents, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Various coaches have been run off for unspecified reasons, including Peterson during the 2010-11 season.
“It’s kind of sad, what happened to some outstanding coaches,” said Joerger, whose father Joe coached tennis and girls’ basketball in the Staples-Motley system.
Dave Joerger graduated from Staples-Motley in 1992 and then played point guard in Moorhead. “I know they call it something else now [Minnesota State Moorhead], but it’s always going to be Moorhead State to me,” he said.
While he was playing there, Staples-Motley was having its most-famous basketball moment: a 54-52 loss to Minneapolis North in the 1995 title game of the “Sweet Sixteen,” the first season of a two-year experiment to bring back the excitement of one-class basketball to the state tournament.
“My little brother Blaine had quite a game against North,” said Joerger, in an understatement.
Blaine Joerger, a 6-2 guard, outscored Khalid El-Amin 28-17. He went to the other Minnesota State, in Mankato, and El-Amin went to UConn and led the Huskies to an NCAA title in 1999.
The Joergers and El-Amin would be united again. “I had Khalid in Bismarck in 2001-02 — Khalid and [Arizona’s] Miles Simon both,” Joerger said. “We won the CBA championship.”
Dave Joerger figured he was going to follow his father Joe, and his high school mentor, Peterson, into coaching. It seemed logical that would be in high school, until he hooked up as a 22-year-old assistant with the Bismarck, N.D., franchise (Dakota Wizards) in the IBA.
The league had a haughty name — the International Basketball Association — but was as low budget as pro basketball can get.
Joerger became the head coach for the 2000-01 season. The Wizards won the last IBA title. They joined the CBA for 2001-02, and Joerger won another title with Simon and El-Amin. He won two more CBA titles in Bismarck, another with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, and finally an NBDL championship back in Bismarck in 2007.
Marc Iavaroni brought Joerger to Memphis as an assistant in 2007. And Lionel Hollins kept Joerger and has moved him up the coaching ladder.
“It’s a neat town for basketball,” Joerger said. “The fans know the sport really well, because of the success of the Tigers [University of Memphis] and the great high school ball here.
“When we were winning 22 games and Cal [John Calipari] had it going with the Tigers, they were dominant in the market. Our management hung in there, and watching this thing grow has been rewarding.”