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Eric Peterson, Published May 22 2012

Joerger has become a hot commodity among NBA coaching ranks

Fargo - When Dave Joerger played point guard for Concordia and Moorhead State in the 1990s, his role included keeping his head up and seeing the entire court.

In Joerger’s professional coaching career, he has taken the opposite tact.

“You really don’t look up. You just do your job,” said Joerger, who is from Staples, Minn. “You try to help your head coach as much as you can and help your players.”

If Joerger, 38, were to glance up at this point, he would see he’s closing in on the top level of his profession.

He recently finished his fifth season as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. Joerger was elevated to top assistant on head coach Lionel Hollins’ staff prior to this season.

ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard recently wrote that Joerger “has quickly developed a reputation as one of the hot young assistant coaches in the league.” Joerger has interviewed for the vacant Charlotte Bobcats head coaching position.

Joerger wouldn’t comment on the Charlotte job with the Bobcats still in the hiring process.

But when asked what it would mean if he was hired as an NBA head coach one day, “It would be a great honor,” he said.

Joerger has watched the Grizzlies develop from a 22-60 team in his first season on staff to a team that has made the NBA playoffs the past two seasons.

Memphis knocked off No. 1-seeded San Antonio in the 2011 playoffs. The Grizzlies were 41-25 in this past shortened regular season, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in a first-round playoff series.

“The momentum started rolling on this thing with our team. We had a lot of young guys,” Joerger said. “They have developed each year. … You are proud of the guys who have been here for three, four, five years because they took their lumps when they were young.”

The momentum in Joerger’s coaching career started in the minor leagues. He won a total of five league championships in the International Basketball Association, the Continental Basketball Association and the NBA D-League.

Joerger’s success in the minor leagues is what started him thinking about the NBA.

“Which had never been a thought in my mind,” said Joerger, who started his pro coaching career as an assistant with Bismarck’s Dakota Wizards in 1997-98 when the team was in the IBA.

Joerger wasn’t thinking about being a head coach or even lead assistant at that point.

“It’s the NBA and the lights are bright and you hope, ‘Man, is there a way that I could get in there in any capacity?’ ” he said. “You try to find any way that you can to get into the NBA.”

Joerger is thankful that Marc Iavaroni, who was the Grizzlies head coach in 2007-08, gave him that chance. Hollins took over as head coach by the end of the 2008-09 season.

Hollins has guided the Grizzlies to at least 40 wins in each of the past three regular seasons.

“I love my head coach. I’ve learned a lot from him,” Joerger said. “One of the things he’s really good at is letting his coaches coach. He’s still the big voice. He’s still the leader of this team. But you love to work for a guy who wants to hear what you think whether you agree or disagree.”

As a 6-foot guard, Joerger played for Concordia in 1993-94, averaging 6.4 points in 24 games. He led the team with 109 assists.

Joerger would end his college playing career at Moorhead State, his final season being 1996-97. He still holds the school’s single-game assists record with 15 against Winona State in 1996.

In his senior season at Moorhead State, Joerger landed a volunteer position with the IBA’s Fargo-Moorhead Beez, who were coached by Rory White. Joerger said he would go to practices and games to soak in whatever he could.

“I learned a lot from being around him,” Joerger said of White. “That was kind of the foot in the door.”

Joerger said he still keeps in touch with a number of his Moorhead State teammates, including Brett Beeson and Greg Duke.

Beeson and Duke rank among the top five all-time scorers in school history.

“We talked basketball all the time and we still do,” Joerger said. “That started way back when you’re sitting in locker rooms, talking after games and practices. It’s nice to be around guys like that.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com