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From MSUM to Memphis: Former Dakota Wizards leader Joerger prepares for first NBA postseason as Grizzlies’ head coach

Photo by Nelson Chenault / USA TODAY Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger reacts to a call during the first half in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 24 at FedEx Forum.

MOORHEAD, Minn. — The Walthalls could have a fragmented rooting interest tonight when the family watches the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

The Memphis Grizzlies play at the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8:30 p.m.

“I will be rooting for the Grizzlies I can tell you that,” said Minnesota State Moorhead men’s basketball coach Chad Walthall.

Walthall is longtime friends with first-year Memphis head coach Dave Joerger. Both are from Staples, Minn. Walthall’s four kids are where the cheering split could occur.

“They know that dad knows the head coach of the Grizzlies pretty well,” Walthall said.

Dad knowing the head coach, however, may not be enough to offset the star power of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, one of the best players in the NBA.

“I know the little one is automatic KD,” Walthall said of his 7-year-old son Beau. “I know the oldest (13-year-old daughter Brooke) is too cool to wear any jerseys, and the twins (11-year-olds Brady and Blake) could flip at halftime.”

Walthall has an extra tie to the Memphis head coach since he’s coaching at Joerger’s alma mater. Joerger played point guard for two seasons (1995-97) with the Dragons.

“He follows the Dragons all the time,” Walthall said. “It’s amazing how much he follows the Dragons.”

Joerger, the former head coach of the Dakota Wizards minor league team that was based in Bismarck, was one of the first to congratulate Walthall after MSUM earned a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division title this past season. Walthall hopes to bring Joerger into town to do a one-day clinic in the near future.

“We have talked about it,” Walthall said. “I think we both would love to do it. It’s just a matter of the right timing for both of us.”

While Joerger has coached in the NBA playoffs as an assistant, tonight will mark his first postseason game as a head coach.

Blaine Joerger, Dave’s younger brother, thinks these playoffs will be different for his older sibling.

“It is totally different with him being a head coach,” said Blaine, who lives in the Twin Cities area and officiates NSIC and Division III basketball games. “Everything stops at him.”

Blaine has made it to six of Dave’s games in person this season, watching many more on his NBA television package.

“I think I have gotten over the weirdness of seeing him on ESPN and on TV,” Blaine said. “Becoming a fan becomes a little stressful sometimes.”

Blaine said he may be biased, but he sensed his brother had that “it” factor growing up.

“You could see it pretty early on,” said Blaine, who played college basketball at Minnesota State-Mankato. “Coaching was his passion.”

The Grizzlies have a 50-32 record in Dave Joerger’s first season as head coach.

Memphis made the NBA postseason, even though starting center Marc Gasol missed 23 games early in the regular season due to a knee injury. The 7-foot-1 Gasol is third on the team in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game.

Gasol returned to the lineup in mid-January.

“It was nice to see him with the injury to Gasol still win 50 games,” said Walthall. “I think that was a pretty huge deal for him.”