March 28, 2006
By Chris Haft
San Jose Mercury News
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - With his long hair and MVP aura, Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash was the center of attention when he walked into an Arizona Diamondbacks game last September. The stares grew more intense as he jumped from his seat to cheer a home run by the Giants' Randy Winn. Recalling the glares and stares, Nash said, ``I had to explain to everybody that this is my buddy.''
Nash, 32, and Winn, 31, bonded almost instantly upon entering Santa Clara University in 1992. ``He was one of my first friends when I moved in the dorm,'' Nash said.
Without this relationship, their shared roots as Broncos would be mere coincidence. With it, their story grows beyond that.
``I guess the best part of it is he hasn't changed,'' Winn said recently. ``We were sitting around two nights ago telling stories, and it's like we're right back in school.''
Nash and Winn were part of a core of seven freshman basketball players who, finding themselves in a new world, gravitated toward one another for companionship. This group included Adam Anderson, Phil Von Buchwaldt, Jason Sedlock, Drew Zurek and Kevin Dunne, Winn's close friend from San Ramon Valley High School.
``In essence, we were a fraternity,'' Zurek said. ``We'd all go to the cafeteria and the library together. It was kind of comical, but we were all good buddies.''
``That was probably as close a group as we've had since I've been here,'' said Dick Davey, SCU's head coach since 1992.
Thanksgiving of their freshman year went a long way toward cementing the friendships. Since the basketball schedule gave players scant time to return to their respective homes, the Winns and Dunnes, who lived in Danville, hosted a holiday meal for those who couldn't be with their families. ``We had known each other for only two or three months and they opened up their homes,'' Zurek said.
As a freshman, Nash played 31 games and helped the Broncos stun second-seeded Arizona in the 1993 NCAA tournament by sinking six free throws in the final 49 seconds. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore. By contrast, Winn remained a reserve, averaging 6.3 minutes and 1.5 points in 22 games as a freshman and sophomore. Before the 1994-95 season, Winn committed full-time to baseball.
``After my senior year in high school, I was playing in some summer league and a scout said, `If you keep after this, you might be able to make some money doing this.' So I knew I'd choose baseball,'' said Winn, who signed a three-year, $23.25 million contract extension last month.
``He would have been a good college basketball player if he had stuck with it,'' Nash said. ``Everything he did was quick. He was one fast-twitch muscle.''
``Randy could flat-out defend you,'' Davey said. ``He was right up there with the best on our team.''
Dropping basketball didn't change Winn's social circle. He, Nash and four of their friends moved into a three-bedroom house for their junior year. ``I only went in there one time, and that was enough,'' Davey said. ``It was a real pigpen. But they seemed to enjoy it.''
``The place was a mess,'' Dunne conceded. ``But we definitely had some good parties and good times. Lots of lazy Sunday afternoons after games Saturday nights.''
As is the case with any group of college friends, graduating, building careers and raising families have separated Nash, Winn and their mates. But not too much. When Nash played in Dallas for the Mavericks, they would gather there once a year. Last spring, when Nash rejoined the Suns, the mini-reunion moved to the Phoenix area. Several of the friends convened again late last month, before Winn left to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. ``Boys' weekend,'' Winn called it.
``We've all kind of matured,'' said Zurek, who asked Winn to be godfather to his two children. ``Other than that, it's still the same. No one comes with airs.''
Winn sounded anything but conceited as he considered the career paths he and Nash have traveled since they were at SCU.
``If somebody came up to us and said, `Ten years from now, you'll both be professional athletes in different sports; one guy will be a multiple All-Star and MVP and the other guy will be an All-Star and a starter,' we would have said you're crazy,'' Winn said. ``We never would have thought that in a million years.''
Imagining themselves as lasting friends, however, would have been easy.