August 16, 2003

Nash Returns to Familiar Role

Aug. 14, 2003

Jeremy Sandler
CanWest News Service

TORONTO, Ontario -- Steve Nash is more famous than all his 2003 Team Canada teammates put together. Heck, his hair is more famous than they are.

And after a couple of weeks at home in Victoria, Nash, sporting his trademark unkempt mop top and at least two- or three-days' growth of facial hair, is in Toronto this week, back with a national basketball team that without him would be in as much of a mess as his hair.

Canada is preparing for next week's Tournament of Americas, which is serving as a qualifying tournament for next August's Athens Olympics. And with injuries and contract issues expected to keep such National Basketball Association players as Jamaal Magloire, Rick Fox and Todd MacCulloch from playing for Canada, the presence of Nash, a two-time all-star with the Dallas Mavericks (and former Santa Clara University star), is all the more crucial.

It was Nash who earned the nickname Captain Canada during Team Canada's thrilling run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where the Canadians were in medal contention until a loss to France in the quarter-finals.

He opted out of last year's world championship, citing fatigue, and Canada finished 13th.

"He makes the other players around him that much better," said Canadian coach Jay Triano. "We're going to be a better team because of what he brings both in his scoring and his ability with the ball, (and) also in his work ethic."

While Nash, who spent part of this off-season travelling in Paraguay, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, only had to worry about carrying his bags during his summer sojourn, he knows he will be shouldering the largest load for Team Canada. He led the Canadians to a silver medal and an Olympic spot at the last Tournament of Americas in 1999.

"I think I'm comfortable with my role here," Nash said. "It's not that much different from the Mavericks. I'm not necessarily the best player on the Mavericks, but I have a pretty huge role there to make sure we win as many games as we can and I think that's really my role here, to win.

"It's not necessarily to score 20 points or to have 10 assists, it's to win and if I know anything about this group of guys, they make it easy for me.

"This is a group I'm very fond of, I'm very close with. This isn't just a basketball team, we grew up playing basketball together."

They will have to come together again quickly.

Nash, who has played four or five times over the last few weeks, said he is healthy but "rusty" and complained his jump shot had betrayed him in recent weeks. But after a few minutes on the court, he was soon draining most of his attempts during warmups, a sight that must have warmed the heart of Triano.

The coach said reaching the Top 3 at the Tournament of Americas will be tough for Canada, which will have to beat out at least two of Argentina, Brazil, the United States and host Puerto Rico. Brazil and Argentina both beat Canada, albeit without Nash, at the recently concluded Pan Am Games tournament and the American team will be stocked with such NBA stars as Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter.

Without Magloire, Fox or MacCulloch, Triano admitted Canada will be challenged as far as size goes.

But neither Triano or Nash was willing to use the absence of top players or the tough field as potential excuses.

While Nash is known for speaking his mind -- he took an anti-war stance last season in the lead-up to America's invasion of Iraq despite playing in President George W. Bush's home state of Texas -- he was diplomatic when asked if he was disappointed that Magloire is planning to stay away from the team.

"It's financially not viable for him to come play," Nash said. "I mean he's got an opportunity to make more money than 99 per cent of the population in his career and for him to jeopardize that by playing before he signs his contract is something that people should understand is unrealistic."

Despite the missing talent, Nash believes a group that includes veterans like Rowan Barrett and Denham Brown, a young star at the University of Connecticut, will be competitive.