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Steve Nash dished out 10,335 assists in his NBA career. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This feature on future two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash appeared in CAGE Canada Basketball News’ summer 1998 edition.

Nash shines in Valley of the Sun
Canadian makes huge strides in second NBA season

By Ed M. Odeven

Steve Nash heard the boos.

He recognized the disappointment of the Phoenix Suns fanatics who were less than thrilled when the organization selected a little-known point guard from Santa Clara University with the 15th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.

After all, the Suns already had a dependable All-Star named Kevin Johnson manning the point and the squad desperately needed an intimidating defensive presence inside.

The easy-going, humble Nash understood the fans’ initial skepticism.

“I don’t look like I’m going to be a tremendous basketball player,” the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder from Victoria, British Columbia, admitted during his rookie campaign.

“I probably would’ve booed myself, too, but I’m going to be a really good player and I’m going to help the team a lot. I have a lot of faith in myself and hopefully the (fans) will enjoy watching me play.”

So far, so good.

Nash, who was drafted higher than any Canadian in NBA history, has certainly proven his worth to the Suns. And perhaps, his lasting legacy will be that he was a “steal” at No. 15.

All evidence appears to support this claim.

He has shown significant improvement in his first two pro seasons, by raising his output in points (3.3 per game to 9.1), assists (2.1 to 3.4), rebounds (1.0 to 2.1) and field-goal shooting percentage (42.3 to 45.9).

He connected on 81 of 193 three-point attempts this past season, tied for 13th best in the league at 41.5 percent with Hershey Hawkins, Greg Anthony and Detlef Schrempf.

Despite Phoenix’s explosive guard rotation, consisting of proven players Johnson, Jason Kidd and Rex Chapman that kept Nash on the bench many a time, he flourished in a reserved role. And learned from it, too.

“Well, I know we’ve got a lot of great players so I might not play from night to night,” Nash said. “But, I’ve learned so much from them all. It’s too much to even tell you. I just continue to learn from each and every one of them.”

And he continues to impress Suns coach Danny Ainge.

But because of Phoenix’s surplus of guards, Ainge dubbed Nash’s lack of playing time as “unfortunate.”

“He’s really going to be something special,” said Ainge, who earned his fair share of compliments during a stellar 14-year playing career.

“As it is, I wouldn’t hesitate to put him in the lineup anywhere, anytime.”

Phoenix center Horacio Llamas, another second-year player, offered this ringing endorsement of Nash:

“First of all, (he plays) with a lot of energy defensively and offensively being a good, unselfish point guard, and shooting the ball very well. He worked very hard last summer to play better this year, to get more minutes this year. Little by little, he’s going to play more because he’s one of the best point guards in the league.”

All-Star teammate Jason Kidd said Nash is an unheralded standout.

“Steve will be able to walk into a crowd and a lot of people will walk past him and not recognize him,” Kidd said. “He reminds me of a John Stockton-type basketball player and person because John Stockton probably goes unnoticed walking around. But when he puts on that uniform, he does extremely well and he has no problem with people recognizing him.”

Starting in place of the sidelined Chapman on April 16, Nash scored nine of his career-high 24 points in the third quarter as Phoenix erased a 19-point deficit to defeat the pesky Denver Nuggets 96-89.

“Nash was huge,” Ainge said after Phoenix avoided an embarrassing loss to the lowly Nuggets.

He tied his career high with 12 assists in Phoenix’s regular-season finale victory at Houston on April 19. And he ended the season by drilling 9 of 10 shots from downtown.

For a man who has already been the subject of a full-length biography, Long Shot: Steve Nash’s Journey to the NBA, by Jeff Rudd, Nash has shown no signs of complacency.

“I’m most pleased with my constant improvement,” he said. “I feel that if you’re always improving then you are going to have a good long career,” which is just the right combination of optimism and positive attitude that have turned those premature boos into elongated cheers.

And deservedly so.

Bonus shots

Nash on the benefits of playing soccer extensively as a youngster: “Soccer’s great as far as balance and footwork and coordination. I think soccer’s obviously been a big benefit for my basketball career.” … In his only start as a rookie (Nov. 14, 1996), Nash gave the hometown fans plenty to cheer about: a memorable 17-point, 12-assist, seven-rebound performance against the host Vancouver Grizzlies. … Mr. Clutch: As a freshman, Nash converted 6 of 7 free throws in the final 31 seconds of a 1993 NCAA Tournament first-round game to lift Santa Clara to a stunning upset over the University of Arizona Wildcats.