Aug. 26, 2005
By Nick Peters
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Steve Nash, the 2005 MVP of the NBA, has recorded plenty of assists during a sterling career, and he also registered one not in the books - helping to push new Giants center fielder Randy Winn toward a baseball career.
Both entered Santa Clara University as point guards in 1992, Nash as a heralded Canadian import from British Columbia and the 6-foot-2 Winn as a determined walk-on from two-time Division II state high school runner-up San Ramon Valley High School.
"Randy was a very good high school athlete," recalled former Pacific guard and longtime Santa Clara coach Dick Davey. "He walked on with us and probably didn't like me too much because I kind of encouraged him to try baseball."
Davey made that evaluation when the infrequently used Winn scored 33 points in 22 games (1.5 ppg) during his freshman and sophomore seasons. While Nash's star was rising, the bench player dropped basketball and focused on baseball.
"Randy loved basketball, but he knew he wasn't going to start ahead of Steve," Davey said. "And when Randy became an All-Star in the majors (2002), Steve was an All-Star with the Mavericks the same year. I'm proud of both of them."
The mild-mannered Winn insists he harbors no resentment toward Davey for influencing the career decision, and he remains friendly with Nash, reacquainting with his former teammate when the NBA star was in Phoenix during spring training.
"I thought Steve could play in the NBA, but I don't think anyone thought of him being MVP of the league," Winn said. "He's a very humble guy. He was kind of embarrassed by all the MVP talk before it happened."
Humility is a quality Winn also possesses. In an era of showboating athletes and a look-at-me culture, the 31-year-old athlete is quiet and unassuming. He already has made a big impression in 22 games with the Giants, yet it's obscured by team failure.
Winn's home runs on consecutive days off Atlanta's Tim Hudson and Florida's Dontrelle Willis produced Giants victories. Winn also hit for the cycle in Cincinnati last week and Wednesday night against Philadelphia notched his 1,000th major-league hit.
Then again, Winn is accustomed to being overlooked. He was a two-time all-league basketball player as a prep, but Kevin Dunne was the big star as San Ramon reached the state finals in 1991 and 1992, losing both years.
Winn's most imposing statistic as a senior was a 3.6 grade-point average, but he also averaged 17 points and five assists while making 63 percent of his field-goal attempts.
That caught the eye of Santa Clara recruiters while they were signing Dunne to a scholarship.
"I never really felt unappreciated, because I knew I could play," he recalled. "I just didn't get a lot of attention because I didn't dunk, I didn't make behind-the-back passes, and I didn't hit a ton of (three-pointers).
"It's kind of the way I am in baseball. I just feel I can do a lot of things well, but I'm not flashy. ... In looking back, I guess I was a little disappointed there were no scholarship offers."
Because of his academic prowess, Winn had some options. Selected as the Oakland Tribune Scholar-Athlete of the year as a senior, he was interested in UC Davis and Air Force but balked when they would allow him to walk on only in basketball.
"I was all-league in both (sports)," he said. "I went to Santa Clara because they were the only school which let me play both at a Division I school.
"I entered as a business major, and I got a marketing degree. When basketball didn't work out, I wasn't discouraged. During summer-league baseball, a scout told me I could make some money playing ball, so I kind of knew that would be my sport."
In his only full season as a Bronco in 1995, Winn batted .294 with 30 steals in 35 attempts as an All-West Coast Conference outfielder in 1995. He was drafted in the third round by Florida, batted .315 as a pro rookie, became a switch hitter and returned to work on his degree.
After stealing 51 bases in the minors in 1997, he was plucked in the third round of the expansion draft by Tampa Bay. By 2002, he was the Devil Rays' MVP, attaining career highs with a .298 average, 39 doubles, nine triples, 14 homers and 27 steals.
In a unique trade after that season, Winn went to Seattle for manager Lou Piniella. After 2 1/2 solid seasons (.295, .286 and .275) with the Mariners, he was acquired July 30 by the Giants for Yorvit Torrealba and Jesse Foppert.
And his basketball dream hasn't gone entirely unfulfilled. In 2002, Winn finally had a chance to perform on an NBA court, sort of. He made a halfcourt shot at a Clippers game and won an automobile.
He gave it to his mother.