TORONTO - Steve Nash put forth one inspirational performance after another when he represented Canada at the Sydney Games 12 years ago and led them into the Quarter-Finals.
Now the two-time MVP of the NBA is going to try and get Canada back to the Olympics when they are staged in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, albeit not as a player.
Canada Basketball on Tuesday announced that Nash is to take up the newly-created position of General Manager of the Senior Men's Team, to provide “the leadership and inspiration for a program that is blessed with a wealth of emerging talent.”
The 38-year-old Nash, who doesn’t know yet where he will play next season in the NBA after spending the last eight seasons with the Phoenix Suns, is looking to bring a spark to a national side that lost all of its games at the 2010 FIBA World Championship and then came in sixth at last year's FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina.
“I'm thrilled to be able to take on this challenge," Nash said.
"We have lots of work to do and I'm excited to get started.
“With the talent we are developing in this country, Canada has an opportunity to become one of the top basketball nations in the world."
Some of that young talent was on display in Mar del Plata last year at the FIBA Americas Championship, where Argentina and Brazil reached the Final to take up automatic berths for the London Games, with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela coming in third, fourth and fifth, respectively, to gain passage to the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
Cory Joseph, a 1.93m point guard who turned professional after his one season with the Texas Longhorns and was selected by the San Antonio Spurs, is just 20 years of age.
He represented Canada in Argentina, as did 2.13m center Kelly Olynyk, a 21-year-old who played American college basketball at Gonzaga.
There is a lot of talent.
Tristan Thompson averaged more than 23 minutes per game this season as a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers and among the standouts at last year's U19 FIBA World Championship in Latvia were Kevin Pangos and Dyshawn Pierre.
"There is no reason why, if we nurture and support these great young players and give them the tools they need, that we can't be a medal contender at the Olympics,” Nash said.
Canada Basketball still have to appoint a new coach following Leo Rautins’ decision to step down after seven years in charge.
“We could have just gone out and hired a head coach – we’ve had overtures from a number of world-class candidates – but we really wanted to take the time to review our overall approach to the program,” said Wayne Parrish, the president and CEO of Canada Basketball.
“In that process, we came to understand that in order to compete at the highest level internationally we needed to strengthen the entire structure, from both the personnel and financial perspectives.”
Rowan Barrett, who played with Nash at the Sydney Games, has also taken up a new post with Canada Basketball as the assistant general manager/executive vice-president of the senior men’s program.
Both will work closely with Maurizio Gherardini, the managing director.
Parrish says Nash is be a tremendous asset.
“Steve’s passion, drive, thoughtfulness and profound basketball IQ give us an absolutely incredible opportunity to leverage the wealth of emerging talent to get back to the Olympics and make some real noise once we do,” Parrish said.
As this is not a year for the FIBA Americas Championship to be played, Canada do not have games scheduled.
Nash plans to meet with players and look at the options for the staff, including the appointment of a head coach.
“If all goes well, I’d like to get the group together for the first time late this summer,” said Nash.
“We are looking for a long-term commitment, to Canada and to the program. Playing for the national team was a major element in my development into an elite player and I believe it can be for a lot of our guys today.”