SEARCH 2000 Games

Thursday, August 31, 2000

The cost of being Canadian

Nash pays much more than most patriotic NBAers

  HONOLULU -- You couldn't blame Steve Nash for feeling a little more acutely aware of his nationality today.

 He knows it falls to him, as Canada's leader and its only real NBA veteran, to do the impossible: Lead Canada tonight in a pre-Olympic warmup against the 12 most potent players the U.S. and the NBA could assemble.

 What's awkward for Nash, however, is the NBA stars are players he has played against and at one time or another, had a measure of success against as a Dallas Maverick and, before that, as a Phoenix Sun. It will be near impossible for him to do so this time because Canada's other players -- solid when compared with those of other nations --simply are not of the same calibre as his NBA colleagues. The reality is that the U.S. will win tonight by as many points as it wants.

 And it falls to Nash to stick his finger in the figurative dike even as the water begins washing through, to be the first one over the top of the trench as the bullets begin to hail. He'll do so without flinching.

 Nash is without question Canada's best player, someone who has given unselfishly to the national team program before and after he turned pro. He has done what others, such as Rick Fox and Jamaal Magloire, would not: Show up early for the tryout camp, spend weeks and months with his teammates doing endless drills he does not really need, deny the fatigue an 82-game NBA season brings. He does so for the same reason as the other members of Canada's team: He believes in his country, he believes in his teammates and he wants to represent his country in an Olympic Games.

 By the same token, today, up against the NBA's best, he will be made too well aware of being Canadian; because of it, he suddenly becomes an outsider from a club he normally belongs to during the regular season.

 He knows his NBA counterparts playing for the U.S. did not have to report to camp until just days ago after a relaxing vacation. He knows they have been wined and dined since they arrived in Hawaii, and he knows they were allowed to jump right into scrimmaging and games because, well, they're NBA players and they don't need the same kind of preparation that Canada or any other nation does.

 "It's hard sometimes," Nash said the other day. "It's definitely a grind. When you play in the NBA you're used to playing so many games. It's tough to come out and do drills."

 He's not complaining. What he's doing is being honest and aware of the unique situation he is in. He made a commitment to the national team, and he doesn't regret doing so for an instant. But he is ready for the shooting to start for real in Sydney. And with the U.S. stars here, he will be more aware of it today.

 "It's tough practising a lot and not playing a lot of games, or playing games that don't really mean anything," Nash said. "But that's what it is. I understand that."

 Canadian coach Jay Triano, who works for the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies during his day job, knows too well what Nash is going through. By the same token, he has to be fair to the rest of his team and cannot make exceptions because the grind is hard. Nash, truthfully, wouldn't let him anyway.

 "This goes back to the Fox and Magloire issue," Triano said. "I think I owe it to the team to treat them all the same. How do you determine who gets a day off and who doesn't? My policy is that everybody does it, or nobody does.

 "I don't know if it's the right decision. But it's the one I made."

 Understandable. It's that all-for-one approach that got Canada qualified for the Olympics last summer when nobody thought it would or could.

 But Triano also is aware that in the future, in order to maintain Nash's interest in playing for the national team, he may have to organize things differently.

 "Down the road, maybe he does come in at the end of camp," Triano said. "I'd justify it because he has given so much to the national team program already. This year, for instance, he knows offence from every position. He knows the other guys' roles better than they know them. He won't have to do all that work next time."

 Underdog or not, Nash is determined to make this game tonight mean something.

 "What we have to do is compete against ourselves," Nash said. "We have to demand a lot from ourselves. Just because we're overmatched doesn't mean the game can't be productive. The opposite might be true.

 "We can't get caught up in trying to impress them. We have a job to do and that's get ourselves ready for the Olympics."

 He might have been thinking particularly when you're Canadian, and you happen to play in the NBA.