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Eric Peterson, Published June 27 2013

Walthall in attendance as Joerger introduced as Grizzlies coach

MOORHEAD – The day’s significance hit Chad Walthall as he walked through a hallway in the FedEx Forum on Thursday morning.

The Minnesota State Moorhead head men’s basketball coach looked at larger-than-poster-size team photos of former Memphis Grizzlies teams.

They featured the likes of former Grizzlies general manager Jerry West and former Memphis head coaches Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello.

“When you see Jerry West on the wall, you kind of realize this is a very big deal,” Walthall said of the former Los Angeles Lakers star who also became a successful NBA executive.

Walthall was in Memphis to watch longtime friend Dave Joerger be announced as the new head coach of the Grizzlies.

Joerger played college basketball at both MSUM and Concordia. Both Joerger, 39, and Walthall, 44, are from Staples, Minn.

“We are from the same small town, and I watched him grow up and watched him excel in the coaching profession. It was pretty cool,” Walthall said of attending Thursday’s news conference.

Joerger’s journey to NBA head coach started in 1997. Joerger began his professional career in Bismarck as an assistant coach with the Dakota Wizards, who were in the International Basketball Association at the time.

He became the Wizards head coach in 2000 and won his first of five minor league championships in 2001. Joerger also coached in Cedar Falls (2004) and Sioux Falls (2004-06) before returning to the Wizards in 2006-07.

“He did it the old-fashioned way,” Walthall said. “He earned every bit of this opportunity. He started from the ground up. And to reach the pinnacle of his profession, you’re really in awe of the whole thing.”

Joerger played with the Cobbers during the 1993-94 season and averaged 6.4 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Brett Inniger, who was a junior on that team, led the Cobbers in scoring that season with 15.1 points per game. Inniger said Joerger earned a starting spot at point guard early in the season and helped turn the team around after a slow start.

“The guy was just a good floor leader,” Inniger said. “The first thing that stands out in my mind is the kid was almost overly confident. He was kind of our quarterback in the huddle during timeouts. … I’m not surprised that he has moved up the ranks as quickly as he has.”

Joerger then played two seasons with the Dragons (1995-97). He averaged 4.2 assists per game in his 54 games with the Dragons. In his senior season, he averaged 6.0 points and 4.7 assists per game. He set the Dragons’ single-game assists record with 15.

When Walthall was in high school in Staples, he coached the younger Joerger, who was then in middle school.

“I just remember him flying around, loving the game,” Walthall said. “I have this picture of him as a sixth-, seventh-grader. I have this picture of him as a player. So I’ve got that backdrop.

“It’s just surreal to see him up there (today).”

Walthall said he gave Joerger some Dragons gear Thursday, including fleece and a cap. At some point, Walthall plans to give Joerger a basketball from MSUM team camp so that Joerger can display that in his office.

“That’s to make sure he doesn’t forget about us,” Walthall said with a laugh.

Joerger has been with Memphis the previous six seasons as an assistant coach. He moved to the head spot on Thursday.

“For him to be in this organization for six years, that’s a lifetime in the NBA,” Walthall said. “That tells how good he is at his craft.”


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

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