Canadian basketball is what it is today in large part because of Steve Nash.
The first-overall picks in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, hail from Toronto and are among a dozen Canucks in the league.
Now, the 41-year-old Nash, the NBA MVP for 2005 and 2006 with the Phoenix Suns, is looking to take hoops to another level in this country as the general manager of the Canadian men's basketball team, which has not made the Olympics since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.
Speaking at the Four Seasons Resort on Jan. 25 as part of the International Council of Shopping Centers conference, Nash detailed his life growing up as a multisport star in Victoria, some challenges of his playing career and how he is keeping busy post-retirement.
Though Canada narrowly missed out on earning an Olympic berth last summer, the team has a last-ditch chance to make this summer's Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with a qualifying tournament in July. Canada will need to win the tournament to avoid seeing its Olympic drought extend to two decades.
Nash said recruiting younger superstars, at times, is a challenge.
"We have to reel them in to playing for the program," Nash told the conference. "They don't remember Sydney."
Nash also explained the Canadian program's budget has traditionally been significantly less than some of its competitors, often operating on an annual budget of roughly $500,000 to $650,000. However, he noted through increased fundraising efforts, the program has brought in $4.5 million in funding for this Olympic cycle.
Though several other nations have greater ability to spend because of higher government funding, Nash explained many are countries with lower qualities of life than Canadians enjoy.
"It does make our job difficult without government support," he said. "We need corporate sponsors."
With the NBA All-Star Game visiting Toronto for the first time next month and Raptors star guard Kyle Lowry voted in as an Eastern Conference starter, Nash feels the potential for growth in the Great White North is strong.
Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and briefly lived in Regina before his family settled on Vancouver Island, credited former University of Victoria Vikes star Eli Pasquale with helping him get further in the game. While working at a Pasquale-run camp as a teenager, Nash recalled a night where the two-time Olympian asked about his future, instructing him to make a commitment to the sport and making it to the NBA if it was what he truly wanted to do.
"Eli decided before his fifth year (of university)," Nash said of Pasquale, who was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics but never played a regular-season NBA game. "I had to make a declaration... I had to put it down on paper.
"I perhaps wouldn't have made it if I didn't get a ride home from Eli that day."
Nash, who also played for Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers, did not have media availability after his presentation.
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