Basketball

Steve Nash says there are no easy answers to Canada Basketball's player recruitment problem

Steve Nash was twice named NBA MVP. He was an eight-time all-star and played in four conference finals. Still, he called playing for Canada at the 2000 Olympics “the best experience of my career.” So why is Canada Basketball still struggling with player recruitment at the biggest tournaments?

2-time MVP calls Olympics 'best experience of career,' but understands NBA no-shows

Former Team Canada coach Steve Nash exits the court after the team's gold medal loss to Brazil at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Nash says he's disappointed at the lack of NBA involvement at the World Cup, but understands it from the players' perspective. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

Steve Nash was twice named NBA MVP. He was an eight-time all-star and appeared in four conference finals during his hall-of-fame basketball career.

Still, he called playing for Canada at the 2000 Olympics "the best experience of my career."

"It wasn't a job. I will say it was a gift. It was an opportunity to serve your country. [The program] gave me as much as I gave the program."

Nash left the court from Canada's quarter-final loss to France at those Summer Games in tears. The Canadians haven't been spotted on the Olympic men's basketball stage since.

On Thursday, they won their first major tournament game in 17 years, an 82-60 defeat of Senegal in a match whose only significance was classification.

Nash, who was in Toronto promoting his English Premier League coverage for the sports streaming site DAZN, moved on from a five-year run as Team Canada GM in March, passing the torch to Olympic teammate Rowan Barrett.

Barrett's been heavily involved in the program for years, but recently came under fire as more than a dozen NBA players neglected to play for Canada at the World Cup.

"He's done a lot of incredible things for the program, so if not him, who?" Nash said of Barrett. "I think you still have the same problems. Yes, Rowan and the program has to dig deeply and try to find a way around this current kind of disappointment, but the next person is going to have the exact the same job on their hands."

That job comes down to recruitment. Canada boasts the second-most NBA players in the world behind the U.S. Its best possible roster — featuring young stars like Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — would be an immediate Olympic medal contender. But first, they have to get there.

Yet there were few takers for doing the dirty work — a confluence of events, as Nash put it, between injuries, calendar timing and the points in players' careers combined to create a lack of star power at this year's World Cup in China.

"My intuition is that we have to find a way to bring them together and ask them 'What will it take to get you to play? What would it take to get you guys to come together and create this reality that it's your program, it's your team and you're excited to come on and represent the country?'" Nash said.

WATCH | Nash reflects on his Olympic career with Team Canada:

Steve Nash played at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the last time Canada qualified for the Games in basketball, and talks about how the time in Australia was the best time of his career. 1:14

Opportunities abound 

After Canada was eliminated from the Cup with a loss to Lithuania on Tuesday, head coach Nick Nurse said he needed to cultivate better relationships with the players to understand how they balance representing their country next to an NBA career.

Nash, who said he couldn't have imagined getting the NBA champion head coach to lead nationally during his playing days, agrees that communication is key.

"We knew this was a major problem trying to get guys to come out," Nash said. "It shines a light on a deeper issue and having to try to really figure out how can we make this a really important part of a player's summer and career instead of something that's replaceable."

Now 45, Nash noted the amount of access and opportunity players now have to hone their craft over the summer. Individual workouts are prioritized more than ever, and the resources put into summer training have never been higher.

"We've got to ask them, and in many ways challenge them, to make this theirs and to take collective ownership wanting to play together and wanting to experience this. But that's not going to happen until we really understand what it will take for them."

National player involvement is layered and complicated. At the end of the day, it requires players to put their careers on the line, to risk injury and to give up six weeks — in the case of the World Cup — to play for the slowly fading idea of patriotism and national pride.

There is no right answer, no correct decision.

"I don't judge these guys at all for not playing. I would love to see them all play and it's disappointing. But they grew up in a different era, different time, different landscape. They have way more access and opportunity than I had as a young player," Nash said.

"There is nothing like playing for a country with a bunch of Canadian guys that you know and want to go to war with, so to speak. It's just such a great experience."

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