Canadian basketball is peaking. In addition to “bubble” stars like Jamal Murray of the Nuggets and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lugentz Dort of the Thunder, there are a number of solid NBA players, like Kelly Olynyk of the Heat, Andrew Wiggins of the Warriors, Tristan Thompson of the Cavaliers and R.J. Barrett of the Knicks ... who has the added distinction of being Steve Nash’s godson.
And Nash knows all about them. For seven years, two years longer than his time as player development consultant, Nash was General Manager of Team Canada, As Alex Schiffer wrote last week, Nash evaluated every top player in Canada, knows them, their strengths and weaknesses, their potential. He may have been hired as a head coach, but his skills as a scout and player evaluator are likely to help him as well.
Rowan Barrett, R.J.’s father and long time friend, succeeded Nash as GM last year. He told CBC recently how he worked out Team Canada players.
“He was our general manager, but he was on the floor. With gear on, shoes, and getting after it with the guys, doing the drills,” Barrett said. “So that’s very natural to him.”
It was an extension how he played. Barrett remembers bringing R.J., the overall No. 3 pick a year ago, to a game early so he could see how a top NBA player prepared for a game. Barrett remembers seeing Steve Nash covered in sweat, putting in work on the practice floor long before he was joined by his teammates.
“He was big on player development,” Michael Meeks, Nash’s friend, former Canadian teammate and colleague at Canada Basketball, told Schiffer. “Steve’s not a dictator. What makes a good leader? You’re able to step into a situation, access what’s going on and put together a game plan. Steve gets to the bullseye a lot more effectively than a lot of people.”
Those close to him think his time running Team Canada will be helpful as he adjusts to the evaluation part of the job in Brooklyn.
Nash played for Team Canada from 1991 to 2003, making one Olympic appearance and being twice named FIBA Americas MVP. After that, Nash declined invitations to play for the national team, which angered some Canadian fans but he returned as GM in 2012. His most difficult job, ironically, was recruiting other Canadian stars to play for the Maple Leaf.
Still, Canada is looking forward to next year in Tokyo when the team will play in the delayed Olympic Games for the first time in nearly two decades ... and could medal. Barrett hopes that at the least Murray, Barrett, Khem Birch of the Magic and Cory Joseph of the Kings will play. Nick Nurse, the Raptors head coach, was hired as Team Canada’s head coach during the waning days of Nash’s time with Team Canada.
“It caught me off guard, that’s for sure,” Nurse said in Orlando. “I’ve known Steve for a long time and talk to him quite a bit, and have talked to him quite a bit recently. So, he kept all that to himself, close to his chest, so it caught me off guard.
As GM, Nash didn’t preach or emphasize a particular style of play for each team to play, Schiffer wrote. Instead, he encouraged his coaches to see what best served the players’ skill sets and then determine the x’s and o’s.
“But he’ll be great, man. He’s one of the greatest players ever. I consider him a friend of mine and wish him well.”
The Nets last Canadian player was Nik Stauskas.