TORONTO (AP) — Steve Nash has dreamed of managing the Canadian men’s basketball team since he was a young point guard running its offense.
He didn’t envision that day would come so soon.
Canada’s biggest basketball star was hired as general manager of the Canadian men’s senior team Tuesday, accepting the role despite the fact he still has a job in the NBA.
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The point guard of the Phoenix Suns, who will be a coveted free agent this NBA offseason, said the opportunity to help what might be the most talented group of young players the country has ever produced was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“It really is a beautiful thing to see our kids and the game grow and the talent continue to reach new heights; it’s amazing,” Nash said at a news conference at Air Canada Centre. “I have a lot of excitement generated for the young kids in this country, many of which are making a name for themselves already, and many of which are coming up behind them.”
Nash’s former Canadian teammate Rowan Barrett was hired as assistant GM.
“We’ve talked about this since we played for the national team, of how we could impact the program, how we could improve it, how we could hopefully leave it in a better place than when we got involved,” Nash said. “I guess it was a long time coming, but I didn’t foresee it being this early.”
The sport’s national governing body has had the two-time NBA MVP in its sights for some time to lead a program that hasn’t made an Olympic appearance since the 2000 Sydney Games.
“Steve’s basketball IQ and background are unparalleled in the sport, and we are tremendously fortunate to have him,” said Wayne Parrish, Canada Basketball’s president and CEO. “We have a perfect marriage here of incredible burgeoning talent within our men’s program and we feel we have in place the right structure and leadership at this point.”
Nash, a 15-year NBA veteran with Phoenix and Dallas, helped Canada to a seventh-place finish — one win away from the medals round — at Sydney, with Jay Triano as coach.
“This program has meant so much to me,” Nash said, a Canada-red pocket square tucked in his suit jacket. “I owe a lot of my development to the program and feel that the success I’ve had in my career is in large part due to my time with the national team.”
The 38-year-old Nash, already a member of Canada Basketball’s Council of Excellence, won’t be paid for the position.
The men’s team has been without a head coach since Leo Rautins resigned in September following Canada’s disappointing performance at the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Hiring a coach will be one of Nash’s first orders of business, and he said Triano will be on his list of candidates.
With no Olympics for Canada this summer, Nash and Barrett plan to gather 30 or so of Canada’s best players to begin training toward the 2016 Games. Likely included in that group of young standouts: Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, both first-round picks in the 2011 NBA draft, Andrew Nicholson, Robert Sacre, Kevin Pangos, Myck Kabongo and high school sensation Andrew Wiggins.
“I’m really proud of the success we’ve seen from our players at all levels, and if I can use my experience and whatever wisdom I’ve accumulated in the game to help them, that’s really exciting for me, and I’m passionate about it,” said Nash.
Canadian program has long been hamstrung by a lack of money, said Parrish. A last-minute private donor had to me up with $50,000 for the team’s insurance last summer.
Nash’s stature among the basketball community, Parrish said, has already improved the program’s bank balance.
The team has operated on a budget of between $400,000 and $500,000 a season, while top-10 countries have budgets of between $1 and $2 million. One team boasts a budget of almost $5 million.
Parrish said a group of private donors known as the “6th Man” has thrown financial support behind Nash. The goal is to raise $4 million over the next five years, and Parrish said they’re already halfway there.
“It’s amazing how powerful Steve getting on a conference call … how galvanizing that is for these individuals,” Parrish said.