Dave Joerger coached the Memphis Grizzlies for seven months and this season’s first 44 games and it didn’t really hit home that a kid from Staples, Minn., now is a NBA head coach until he and his wife, Kara, ate lunch Thursday in a Minneapolis skyway food court.
Revelation can come in the most unexpected places, can’t it?
“It has been a whirlwind,” Joerger said, referring to how his life has changed since he signed a contract in late June to replace Lionel Hollins. “At times, you get tired and you pick your head up and here I am in Minnesota. Maybe now is the time it has really hit me, all the years in the minor leagues, coming up from a small town and a small college and here I am, a NBA coach. It’s really a humbling deal.“
He coached Friday in the same arena he visited with his high school team to watch Houston play the expansion Wolves. It was so long ago that Kenny Smith played point guard for the Rockets.
On Friday, more than 40 family members and friends came from Staples as well as Sioux Falls, S.D., Fargo and Bismarck, N.D. Joerger washed uniforms and coached minor league teams in all three cities on his way to landing an assistant coach’s job with the Grizzlies in 2007.
“I gave everybody my brother’s phone number and let them call him,” Joerger said. “It is fun. It is exciting. A lot of people had a part in this. So many people had influences on me growing up, so many people in this state and in my hometown that mentored and helped me. So it’s not me out there. It’s all of Staples and a lot of Minnesota. It’s really cool.”
Big man makes a difference
With Friday’s victory, Joerger has coached the Grizzlies to a 10-1 record in their past 11 games. They went 7-1 in the last eight after center Marc Gasol — the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year a season ago — returned following a 23-game stretch where he sat out because of a sprained knee ligament.
Coincidence, or not?
“He’s huge for them,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, not referring to Gasol’s 7-foot-1 height. “He gives them so much stability out there.”
The last time these teams played, Gasol didn’t play for the Grizzlies and big Nikola Pekovic did for the Wolves at Memphis last month. This time, Pekovic is out with bursitis in his ankle and Gasol is back.
“That doesn’t hurt my feelings,” Joerger said. “Pek’s good. He’s really good. He’s so strong. You know he’s going left shoulder and it just doesn’t matter because he’s so strong.”
Where’d he go?
Wolves guard Alexey Shved returned to his usual place in the rotation, entering the game in the second quarter after he didn’t play in Wednesday’s victory over New Orleans. Adelman opted to use Luc Mbah a Moute’s defense against Tyreke Evans in that game instead because the Pelicans were without three big players, including young star Anthony Davis.
“Last game was purely matchups,” Adelman said. “It’s going to change from game to game, half to half. I’m not sure, depends on what we need.”
• Ronny Turiaf started Friday at center for Pekovic for the second consecutive game.
• Adelman said Shved’s limited (or no) playing time in the last three games before Friday is not related to his broken nose and the mask he must wear to protect it.
• Rookie Robbie Hummel and Pekovic were the Wolves’ two inactive players Friday.