Unearthed treasure Nash brings Santa Clara riches Virtual unknown lifts team to third straight appearance

March 14, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

Just real lucky.

That is how Santa Clara's Dick Davey feels about starting as head coach of the Broncos in 1992 with freshman Steve Nash as his designated floor leader.

With Davey designing the plays and Nash executing the offense, Santa Clara has a 72-41 record the past four years and qualified three times for the NCAA tournament. Tomorrow in Tempe, Ariz., the Broncos (19-8) face Maryland in the opening round of the West Region.

"It was just real fortunate for us that he fell through the cracks," Davey said of the lanky 6-foot-3 Nash, now considered by pro scouts to be the best pure point guard in the country and a possible low lottery pick.

"Point guards like Nash are born, not made," said Marty Blake, NBA director of scouting. "He can really deliver the ball."

With his ability to consistently find the open man or make the key basket, Nash (16.9 points, 5.8 assists) is often compared to John Stockton, the perennial NBA All-Star and record-holding assist leader of the Utah Jazz.

And like the lightly recruited Stockton, who played at Gonzaga, Nash had to bang on doors to gain attention after graduating from St. Michael's University High School in Victoria, British Columbia, hardly a hotbed for college recruits.

"I knew I had to make it to the States to succeed," said Nash, who sent more than 30 letters to schools such as Maryland, UCLA, Duke and Arizona, only to get polite rejections.

"I had to try to recruit myself, but nobody cared about this little kid from Canada," he said in a Sports Illustrated profile. "It was like I was trapped in an elevator and I'm screaming, but nobody could hear me."

Nobody except Davey, who got to watch a grainy highlight tape of Nash shot with a camcorder.

"My assistant [Scott Gardin] was watching it and laughing out loud. He said, 'You've got to see this skinny Canadian kid who makes his defenders fall down.' "

Davey saw enough to offer Nash a full scholarship.

"I was just praying no one else found out about him," he said.

Starting his college career as a shooting guard, Nash was instrumental in leading the Broncos to the West Coast Conference title as a freshman. He then led his team's stunning NCAA first-round upset of Arizona, hitting four straight free throws in the final 31 seconds.

He has been named the WCC Player of the Year the past two seasons, setting a school record for assists (492). Last November at the Maui Invitational, with Magic Johnson watching, Nash scored 19 points and held UCLA guard Cameron Dollar scoreless in beating the Bruins, 78-69.

Nash, who moved with his family from South Africa to Canada when he was a youngster, now wants a shot at the NBA. Playing for the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies would be his first choice. General manager Stu Jackson says choosing Nash would be a "no-brainer" in terms of marketing. But Nash and the Broncos still have some unfinished business. They ended the season on a sour note, losing their WCC tourney opener to eighth-seeded Pepperdine, 63-60. But its early-season upsets of UCLA and Georgia Tech earned Santa Clara a No. 10 seed in the West.

"Frankly, I didn't care if we had to play in the North Pole," said Davey. "We haven't played very well the past few weeks. But we'll take our chances in the NCAA."

Nash's supporting cast is rather undistinguished. Junior shooting guard Marion Garnett (12.7) is the only other Bronco averaging double figures. Late blooming senior center Brendan Graves gives Santa Clara a modest presence inside, grabbing 7.2 rebounds a game and blocking 32 shots.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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