Steve Nash rejoins Canada Basketball as general manager, buoying hopes for country’s hoops fans
When Steve Nash was criticized in recent years for not putting his battered body through a summer with Canada's men's basketball team, many defended him by pointing out the program needed cash more than Nash. Now it has the man and might have the money, too.
Nash's return to the Canada Basketball fold has long been rumoured, which means Tuesday's announcement in Toronto that the country's greatest hoopster of all time will become the general manager of the national men's team is no great shock. But obviously more needs to be done than add NBA legend and stir. The big takeaway is that the blueprint involves a two-pronged strategy to garner more corporate support for the program and in turn, encourage the country's premier players to don the Maple Leaf for international play. Having the country's most recognizable athlete globally accept a big role should open some doors in the private sector for the program, whose track record of one Olympic berth in the past six quadrennials has knocked it off the map. Canada's Own The Podium program also focuses more on individual than team sports.
"Canada Basketball has been huge in my career but it's also been hamstrung on many occasions — daily, yearly — in its existence because of funding," Nash, who deflected questions about whether he might sign with the Toronto Raptors this summer, said at Tuesday's press conference at the Air Canada Centre. "We've never had the funding to do the things or supply the resources that we wanted to. But now, because of the power and the human resource and the capital of our Sixth Man Group [a group of private investors supporting the team], we have the potential to do some amazing things.
"We want to be playing in the Olympics perennially and we want to be in the hunt for medals," Nash added.
Canada has a bumper crop of basketball talent in the pipeline. Last summer, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson and San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph became the first pair of Canadians selected in the first round of the same NBA draft. Mississauga, Ont., native Andrew Nicholson led St. Bonaventure to a NCAA tournament berth this season and has become a first-round sleeper for this summer's draft.
And so on and so on: 17-year-old small forward Andrew Wiggins is considered the best player his age in the United States. In the NCAA, Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos has been heralded as the 'next Nash.' Forward Kyle Wiltjer helped the Kentucky Wildcats win the NCAA title last month.
An Olympic berth in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 may just be the jumping-off point. That's provided Nash and assistant general manager and executive vice-president Rowan Barrett, the former national team backcourt mates, can get the next generation of Canuck talent to buy in.
"What's really exciting about joining at this particular time instead of waiting until the end of my playing career is the incredible amount of talent that we have in the younger age groups in this country," the 38-year-old Nash said. "It is really a beautiful thing to see our kids and the game grow. We've seen just last year, Tristan and Cory go in the first round of the NBA draft and I don't think that's an outlier. That's a theme. We want to be here as counsel and support for all these kids and their families."
'This is for you'
Nash is hopeful he can halt the recurring stories of the country's top players being disinterested in playing for an underfunded team.
"What I want to do is — and I think it's possible because of an increased budget — is turn this over to the players and say, 'how can we make this worthwhile for you? How can we make this an opportunity for you to take your game to the next level, expose you to new situations?' Whether it's a university in the States or a NBA team, we want to say 'how can we help foster the development of your player?' I think if we're open and transparent, I think everybody wins.
"I think in the past we were constrained by budgets and things of that nature which didn't help get a guy who was working with a NBA team. Now we can say, 'this is for you.' "
Barrett, who spent the past two years as Canada Basketball's youth development director, could be just as pivotal as Nash. Unlike in hockey, where Canada's best young players develop at home and develop an allegiance, most of the country's top ballers spend their teens south of the border. Barrett will be the one keeping contact with the world-beaters.
"Obviously, Steve will be playing, hopefully for the next two to three years," Barrett said. "We're going to need to be on this day-to-day ... These players that we know can play, they need to see us consistently. They need to know that we're supporting them. They need to see us at their games. On Senior Night in university, they've gone through four years, they need to see us there. Our kids are at the McDonald's All-American game, they need to see a Canada flag somewhere supporting them while they're down in the States."
Reports earlier this year said former Raptors coach Jay Triano will return as coach. Triano was let go from that position following the 2004 Olympics cycle. Triano is part of Team USA's staff so nothing can be announced until after the London Olympics.
"Obviously, I love Jay and if he's interested, he'll be an important candidate," Nash said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.