January 18, 2007

Santa Clara's Favorite Sun

Jan. 18, 2007

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - It is fitting that it's on Martin Luther King Day when we first obtain a copy of the inspirational speech. "I Have A Dream" or "I've Been to the Mountaintop"? Sorry. I'm talking about the convocation address that Steve Nash gave this fall at his alma mater, Santa Clara University.

"He calls me and tells me he has no idea what a convocation is," says Nash's former college teammate, and current SCU assistant, Lloyd Pierce about the school-year tipoff speech. "He had no idea what he was going to say--he was a nervous wreck."

The reigning two-time NBA MVP had butterflies standing in front of an auditorium of Ramen-slurping college kids? Preposterous. Nash, who attended school here from '92-'96, is king at Santa Clara like Larry Bird at Indiana State or David Letterman at Ball State. Wheaties boxes and bubbleheads bearing his likeness adorn administrators' desk. There's a shrine to him, in the athletic center, between one for Brandy Chastain and former 49er Brent Jones, that honors his achievements. To get an idea of the legend here that is Steve Nash, the school's second-wealthiest and esteemed alumnus might be his agent, Bill Duffy.

Nash's words from September 18th might not rank alongside classic sports speeches like Rockne's "Win one for the Gipper," Jim Valvano's "Don't ever give up" or Lou Gehrig's "Today, I consider myself..." but that doesn't stop a woman in the audience from blurting out, "We love you, Steve!"

While Santa Clarans love Steve for making it so Randy Winn isn't the program's most distinguished active athlete, Nash, the school's all-time leader in three-pointers and free throw percentage, is equally grateful towards it. The Broncos were the only Division I program to offer the 6-1 point guard from British Columbia a scholarship and the gamble reaped major rewards as he led the team to three NCAA tournament births in four years. "I owe so much to my experience here," said Nash in his speech. "Obviously, basketball is my career. But I had no chance...without coming here."

Nash still is tight with his former college teammates that live in the area, so when he was back on campus, an alumni vs. current players scrimmage was scheduled for the morning of his address. With Nash playing his usual role of distributor extraordinaire, the old farts beat the whippersnappers four out of seven but more importantly players, like 5-11 starting point guard Brody Angley, got to play against their idol. "It was the thrill of a lifetime said guard Domineek Daniel. "I mean how often do you get to go against the current league MVP?"

Tonight, as Nash is leading the Suns to a win over the Grizzlies, Jake and I are in attendance for the West Coast Conference clash between Santa Clara and Portland played in the 4,500 seat Leavey Center. Under Nash's number 11 jersey, which hangs alone in the rafters across from a fifteen-foot tall banner with his photo, the Broncos beat the Pilots 57-41. There doesn't appear to be any future NBA MVPs on the court but the scrawny Canuck turned NBA superstar has proven that you never know for sure. And that is Steve Nash's greatest legacy.

This article is compliments of CSTV.com's HOOPS ODYSSEY - a comprehensive, three-month tour covering over 8,000 miles that captures the passion and unique culture of college basketball during the heart of conference play. The tour brings fans more than just a list of games. Waxman and Osterhout immerse themselves in the lifestyle that encompasses college basketball, showcasing the action, excitement and stories on and off the court. Between stops on campus, they visit people and places along the way to get a complete understanding of the unparalleled enthusiasm that fuels these devoted fan communities.

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