Just a few seasons ago, Nate Bjorkgren was apart of Nick Nurse's staff which led the Iowa Energy to it's first NBA D-League championship in 2011. Bjorkgren has reached the big stage once again, this time as a head coach, and his Santa Cruz Warriors await Nurse's Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBA D-League Finals. Bjorkgren's Warriors finished the regular season with a 32-18 record, and the third overall seed in the playoffs, just behind Nurse's Vipers squad who finished second overall (35-15).
Head coach Nate Bjorkgren spoke with RidiculousUpside.com and shared his thoughts about his time with the Iowa Energy, and Coach Nurse. "I learned so much about this league from Nick Nurse, he spent a lot of time with me while we were in Iowa together. I learned how to go through battles as a coach with him, we also spent a ton of time on the Xs and O's. I really enjoyed learning about pro basketball and the D-League from him." Bjorkgren said.
Bjorkgren was apart of Nurse's staff in Iowa when the team went 37-13 in the regular season, and defeated Rio Grande Valley 2-1 for the 2011 NBA D-League Championship. After four seasons as an assistant in Iowa, Bjorkgren became head coach for the Dakota Wizards last season, and finished first (27-21) in the Eastern Conference. In Santa Cruz, Bjorkgren has improved upon his success from last season, and has his club two wins away from capturing the city's first NBADL Championship.
Playoff experience has proved to be beneficial for Bjorkgren and the Warriors as he explained, "My prior playoff experience has been very valuable, the championship experience and knowing how to prepare has helped for sure. It also helps having players who are used to playoff basketball on the team." Any sort of postseason experience can be useful for coaches and their players, especially in the NBA D-League's unique playoff setup.
Stefhon Hannah was a key contributor in the series-clinching Game 3 of the 2011 NBADL Finals, he scored 31 points by stepping in for the injured NBA D-League MVP, Curtis Stinson. Now in his third NBADL season, Hannah has once again played inspired postseason basketball. Bjorkgren explained Hannah's importance in these playoffs, "Stefhon does most of his damage defensively, he sets the tone with his incredible play on the defensive end which translates to offensive production. He can do it over the entire course of a game too, his energy-level and fight to win is really great. He has championship experience, but him distributing the ball effectively is what really helps us."
The last time Bjorkgren coached with the NBADL title on the line, was in front of roughly 9,000 spectators in Iowa. Against a team loaded with weapons such as RGV, Santa Cruz will need their home crowd to inspire them even more when they host their first NBADL Finals game. Bjorkgren understands this, and added "we have a very nice place and setup in Santa Cruz, it holds 2,500 people and sells out each game. Even outside of our games, when we do community events, people tell us how much they enjoy supporting us and watching us play. Santa Cruz has been a perfect place for pro basketball."
After the playoff dust has settled, it seems like the two most deserving coaches and teams have earned their opportunity to play for the NBADL title. Will Bjorkgren be able to coach his way past former mentor Nick Nurse and his talented squad? Two more wins and Bjorkgren will have the bragging rights, but more importantly the first NBADL title for the city of Santa Cruz and it's fans. It's easy to assume Bjorkgren cares more about the latter.