Aug. 16, 2002
RICHMOND, B.C. - Steve Nash sat slumped in a chair Friday morning, wearily watching the Canadian national basketball team he no longer plays for practice.
On the floor, Titus Channer and Novell Thomas, the two point guards who will take Nash's spot at the upcoming world championships, showed the flash and dash the NBA all-star could no longer muster.
"It's a challenge for us,'' said Channer, named the top Canadian university athlete in 1998 when he played at McMaster University.
"I know no one can replace Steve. Novell and I know we have to step it up, not just us but the team as well.''
Ground down by a long NBA season with the Dallas Mavericks, then caught up in a bitter dispute between outspoken owner Mark Cuban and the league over insurance, Nash decided his body and brain weren't up to the challenge of leading Canada into the world championships later this month.
"I need a break. I'm a little burned out,'' the Victoria native (and former Santa Clara star) said in a hoarse voice.
"It's too much basketball. I'm just not at my best right now and I don't want to feel this way when I get to (NBA) training camp.''
Nash's final appearance with the national team this summer was Friday night's exhibition game against China with the proceeds going to a junior basketball league he sponsors around Vancouver.
Nash was afraid that if he showed up for the Mavericks camp listless after playing for the national team, Cuban might prevent him from playing in next summer's Olympic qualifying tournament.
"I didn't want that because that is more important to me than the world championships,'' said Nash.
"The Olympics to me is something that really means a lot. I don't want to forgo that opportunity.''
National team coach Jay Triano said he realized early in training camp this week that the firebrand Nash who led Canada to a seventh-place finish at the Sydney Games was running cold.
Bothered by ankle, back and foot problems, Nash pulled himself out of practices early. Instead of dominating sessions he had to battle for space on the floor.
"I noticed something wrong,'' said Triano.
"I could just tell that mentally he was not able to play and physically he was not able to play. He didn't like getting beat up by guys trying their asses off to play for this country. They were going out there and mugging him because he's the best player and they want to beat him.''
For Channer, a six-foot-two native of Hamilton, and Thomas, a six-foot resident of Steveston, B.C., the world championships in Indianapolis will be their first major international tournament.
"It's an opportunity I have been looking forward to for a number of years,'' said Thomas, who spent three years playing at Simon Fraser University and a season coaching basketball at Langara College in Vancouver.
Channer, who played professional basketball in Europe, said other teams at the tournament will think Canada will be easy pickings.
"We have to play hard and show them we're one of the best teams in the world,'' he said. "For us (Thomas and him) to come in and try to be leaders is a big step for us.''
Triano goes into the tournament without injured NBA players Todd MacCulloch (foot) and Jamaal Magloire (back, shoulder). He'll also be without national team veterans Peter Guarasci (knee) plus David Daniels and Greg Newton, both for family reasons.
But not having Nash, who can dish off a seeing-eye-pass, drive the basketball or shut down the opponent's best player, could be the biggest blow.
"We're going to lose his leadership, his passing ability and his ability to score and break down teams,'' said Triano.
"That just means we're going to have to be better at executing our plays and it will mean we will have to be more of a team. We're going to distribute the ball and share it. We just can't give it to one guy and have him create for us.''