Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Steve Nash- Not Your Average NBA Star

The Steve Nash Skills Academy was a fantastic Nike-run event. A big part of the success of the 2008 event was the man for whom the camp is named, Steve Nash. The Phoenix Suns point guard, a two-time NBA MVP, did not just put his name on the event and then not participate in the workouts. Rather, Nash was active in coaching the campers, both the college and high school players. The superstar, was kind enough to talk to the reporters at the event on Friday, and we had the opportunity to ask him some questions.

CSN: You see a guy like Stephen Curry, he comes here, a guy who has a major profile already, but what does that mean that he wants to take the time and have the opportunity to come and work out with you?
SN: Well, it’s great that he’s so humble and hard-working. I think, obviously, that’s why he is where he is, and that’s why he has such a high profile. So, those are the tools that I try to impress on these guys, that it’s your attitude, your effort, your commitment, and how good a teammate you are that are just as important as how fast you are or how well you can shoot, so they’ve demonstrated a great propensity to work and to listen, and I think that’s going to take them a long way.

CSN: This camp’s in two parts, there’s high kids and college kids. What is the biggest difference between the two?
SN: Well, I think and strength and experience. The college kids are a little stronger, they’ve been lifting weights with their programs, and also just been growing as men, become men, rather than boys. So, there is a physical difference, and then I think also mentally. The play in difficult environments, and the play with more pressure, and against better players, has given them a lot of experience.

CSN: There’s a kid here, a high school kid, Maalik Wayns, [who is] already going to go to [Villanova]. . . . You get to know these kids through the week. . . . Somebody like him, what specifically do you see in a guy like that?
SN: It’s so exciting to see the talent these kids have, and the spark they have for the game. So, . . . it’s exciting to see them at this stage, to be able to follow him at Villanova, and watch how he’s able to take the lessons and the competition he has at a camp like this, and allow that to propel him into succeeding at the next level, and I just love seeing the talent, and the excitement, and them listening, these coaches being assembled here. That makes me feel good because then I feel like the kids got a chance.

PS: Is there a big ‘wow’ factor for you seeing some of these kids, and just saying you can’t believe how good they are at such a young age?
SN: Of course. Some of them are so young and so talented already, you feel like you have to check their birth certificates, they’re clever, and it’s great to see. It’s a beautiful thing to see that the game is still strong, and that kids are still excited and passionate about it.

CSN: People have trashed basketball in North America, in saying the European skill levels and their development programs are so much better. Is this the kind of thing that . . . North American basketball, Canadian and US, is using to combat that?
SN: I think so. You know, . . . it’s true, the world has caught up in some areas. I think to come here and to really put players in a camp just for their positions, just for the skills it really takes to succeed at that position is a way to give these kids an opportunity to make steps that maybe they wouldn’t make if they didn’t have this opportunity. So, maybe it is a response to the . . . growth the game has seen around the world, and I think with camps like this, the rebuttal will be strong.

AZ: A couple of the high school kids, Lance Stephenson and Dexter [Strickland] are going to try out for Under-18 USA team, competing against college kids. Do you think some of these kids could play on a U-18 team of college kids, and do you think there’s renewed pride to try to play for USA since the Americans have suffered a little bit?
SN: I don’t know about the renewed pride. . . . They may not be as good, or not all of them will be as good right now, but they’re capable of playing with them, and I think a few of them will fit right in.

CSN: X’s and O’s-wise what are the most important things you try to teach to these kids in this kind of setting?
SN: Well, I think the biggest thing that we’re trying to teach the at the Point Guard Academy is [the] pick-and-roll. . . . Pick-and-roll’s such a huge part of basketball, . . . and it’s also one of the most difficult things for a young player to learn, and it takes years and years, and you always are getting better at it, and I think we only give them the tools so they give themselves a chance to get better at it every year, because I think it’s something that I think I’m still improving at, and hopefully if we can give them the tools and the insight, that they can continue to improve and make rapid gains.

KA: With the high school guys especially, change of speed and using speed to your advantage, not always going 100 miles an hour, is that something you notice with some of these guys, that they’re trying to get some things done too quickly?
SN: Yeah, I think it’s a trait of a lot of young players is that they rush a little bit, they’re in a hurry. You want to allow them to slow down a little bit, use their speed to their advantage, and I think that once you got at full speed all the time, you’ve just given away all the time, the defense can key in on you, but if you change pace, change speeds, change directions, you give yourself a chance to really allow your speed to be an advantage.

CSN: [The] NBA Draft [was on Thursday]. Since you’re here, talk about what you guys did and what you saw in the draft in general.
SN: All I heard is that we got Robin Lopez [from Stanford]. So, I’m excited about that, it’s nice to have some size and athleticism. . . . I think he’s an intelligent kid, so it’ll be a great addition to our team, but I didn’t see what happened after that, so, sorry.

NB: Are there any kids in specific here that have stood out to you as some of the top players?
SN: Not really. It’s really hard in this setting to acknowledge that because it’s not five-on-five. So, I couldn’t really.

PS: Talk about how Steve Nash at the same age might have fared, in high school, at this camp.
SN: Well, I think I would have done okay because I was a hard worker, I had good skills, and I was creative, but I think physically, I think . . . these were ahead of me, and when I went to Santa Clara [for college], it took me a little while to catch up to the level and the speed of the game. . . . I think these kids, physically, are ahead of me [from] when I was there age, it took a little time to catch up.

CSN: Excuse me for not knowing, but are you playing in the Olympics this summer?
SN: No.

AZ: Talk [about new New York Knicks Head Coach Mike] . . . D’Antoni. What can he bring to the Knicks?
SN: I think Mike’s going to be great for them, for the Knicks, and the city, it’s kind of the center of basketball in many ways, this is such a great basketball city, and the struggles the Knicks have had have been painful for the fans. I think Mike’s going to be fantastic, they’re going to play a little bit different style than they’re used to here in New York. It’s probably been a few years since they got up-and-down [the floor] the way he’ll want him to, but he’s such a talented and intelligent coach. I think he can’t help but have a great impact on the team.

CSN: How is that going to change what you guys do out there too? You have to now . . . adapt to a new coach, and a new style, and a new system.
SN: Well, we’re lucky to have a great coach. We’re sad to lose Mike, but to be able to replace him with Terry Porter, someone we all respect and admire, is going to be a lot of fun, and hopefully we can win some games, tweak some things, and be a better team.

CSN: Is it disappointing the way this year ended? I know when you got Shaq [O’Neal], you had, certainly, major expectations.
SN: [It was] very disappointing. We wanted to win a championship. To lose in the first round hurt a lot.

PS: Speaking of New York, in the past you’ve played soccer in the summers, you’ve made it your home in the summer. Are you playing this summer?
SN: Yeah, . . . same as always.

PS: Which team are you playing with?
SN: I play on an Italian team and I play on a team sponsored by Phoebe’s.

NB: What drew you to this camp to be a part of it, and [led you] run your own point guard camp?
SN: Well, Nike just asked me if I’d be interested, and I thought it was a great opportunity for these youngsters, and if I could help, I’d be happy to.

NB: What types of players will thrive in Coach D’Antoni’s system? . . . Do you think [he will be able to] . . . co-exist with Stephon Marbury?
SN: Of course he can. I think Steph’s an extremely talented player, and if he and Mike enjoy working together, he’ll flourish. There’s no doubt in my mind.

CSN: Will you miss [D‘Antoni]?
SN: Yeah, . . . we’ll miss Mike. It’s really sad to see him go. . . . We had a lot of success together, and everyone enjoyed playing for him, so it’s sad to see him.

KA: In terms of footwork, and just like you said, pick-and-roll being one of the biggest things, what can you teach them in this short time about using footwork?
SN: I just wanted them to . . . dictate what they wanted to do and not let the defender dictate it, for them to get to the places on the floor [where] they can operate, and stay away from places on the floor where it [is] . . . difficult for them, and setting their man up, getting their man on his heels when they come off pick-and-rolls so they can create space for themselves. It opens up passing lanes and shot opportunities.

It's clear that Steve Nash really does care about helping young basketball players. He is able to not only focus on his game, the Suns, the NBA as a whole, but also on being a good role model and teacher for some of the premiere high school school and college guards in America. It seems that being a two-time MVP has not gotten to Nash's head, as he is still a down-to-earth person. Next time you see Steve Nash lighting it up on TV, don't forget all the good he is doing for players who will one day be in his shoes, especially if he's playing against your favorite team. It will help you to not get mad at the kind-hearted Canadian as he makes the players you root for look silly.

Note- CSN=Comcast Sports Net, PS=Patrick Stanwood, AZ=Adam Zagoria of http://www.zagsblog.net/, KA=Kevin Armstrong of http://sportsillustrated.com/, and NB=Northstar Basketball

Note- photo is from http://www.nba.com/

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