Nick Nurse, donning a 1985 Kuemper Catholic jacket, speaks to the audience during a welcome-home celebration Sunday in Jefferson. (Photo by Brandon Hurley)
Nick Nurse, donning a 1985 Kuemper Catholic jacket, speaks to the audience during a welcome-home celebration Sunday in Jefferson. (Photo by Brandon Hurley)

July 5, 2019

In 1985, I was in the fourth grade in Carroll. My parents took us to every Kuemper boys basketball game possible.

The town buzzed about the basketball team, and in 1985, when Nick Nurse, Brian David and a cast of other stars won the state championship at Veterans Auditorium, it seemed the whole town of Carroll was there.

We filled up Vets with Kuemper colors and won the Spirit Award, too. A classmate and I worked our way to the front row and cheered on the team to a title.

I wore a button made at Vets that said, “I Love Nick Nurse.” My twin sister’s button said, “I love Brian David.” A dream was accomplished, and many more dreams were started.

My dream became to make it to state some day and then to be in the NBA. Did either come true? No, not even close, but it was great to dream big.

I was a gym rat, too. The best would be at the Carroll Rec Center when we were all shooting and playing hoops. I’d be hurling up 3-pointers hoping Nick Nurse saw me — swish, swish, swish.

I went on to earn 11 varsity letters in various sports at Kuemper and played basketball year-round. I wanted to be just like Nick Nurse. Nick Nurse’s number when he starred at UNI was 25; hence, my number in basketball at Kuemper in high school was 24 for home games and 25 for away games.

Then Nick went overseas for many years. Out of sight, out of mind, and there wasn’t the Internet or social media around to keep us up with what he was doing.

One evening in 2006 or 2007, I lived in the Des Moines area and I was back in Carroll for a Kuemper Catholic High School basketball game.

At halftime, I was standing with a friend looking at the 1985 state-championship trophy and team picture. Then I heard someone behind me say as he walked by, “Good-looking crew!” I turned around, and it was Nick Nurse, seemingly out of nowhere!

For the first time as an adult, I got to talk to Nick Nurse and found out he was back starting up an NBA G-league team. I told him I also lived in the Des Moines area and did marketing and would love to help out with anything, and I did.

I created basketball camp flyers, created the first Iowa Energy flyer, and got to watch many Iowa Energy games and Nick coach the team to a championship in 2011. We became friends, and my childhood hero exceeded my expectations as an adult, and he still inspires me to do and be better.

Nick leads by example, is a true gentleman, lets us all be part of the journey and doesn’t forget his roots. This past winter I coached my 7-year-old’s basketball team — also called the Raptors. I sent Nick an email requesting Raptors gear for the kids, and we got it the very next week.

In his final moments at The Nick Nurse Celebration at Wild Rose Casino, Nick said, “Dream big, is all I can say, because sometimes they come true.”

I’ve been riding Nick Nurse’s coattails since 1985, and now he’s an NBA champ.

It’s been an amazing journey.

Stephanie Gifford, now of Waukee, is a 1993 graduate of Kuemper Catholic High School.