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Nash: Success of Wiggins and Co., has made for golden era of Canadian basketball

02/23/2015 05:47 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Steve Nash is grappling with his frustrating final days in the NBA, but he says he's thrilled with the promising careers of his fellow Canadians.

The 41-year-old former NBA MVP has been sidelined for the season — and very likely the rest of his career — with a debilitating back injury, and he said the adjustment hasn't been easy.

"I'm basically just trying to get a little space and see where my head's at, while still focusing on some things and also trying to get a new perspective, because it's been a pretty tough fight over the last 18 months or so," Nash said. "So just getting a little space and seeing how my mind and body responds."

The Los Angeles Lakers guard was in Toronto for a sponsorship announcement Monday, and while he spoke to reporters at length about Canada's young stars such as Andrew Wiggins, questions about his own NBA future and his health were off-limits.

Nash wished Wiggins a happy birthday — the Minnesota Timberwolves rookie turned 20 on Monday.

"Andrew's been phenomenal," Nash said. "He's very young, he has a bright future, and his rookie season has been incredible. I don't think people understand what a jump it is from college to the pros and sometimes how difficult it can be to be in a position he's in where he's asked to do a lot and play a lot, and kind of grow on the fly like that.

"It can show a lot of blemishes, and to be honest, I would thought it would have been very fair for him to make a ton of mistakes this year, and for it to be really awkward, and he's just been incredible. Definitely a testament to his ability."

Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring, has won three consecutive NBA rookie of the month awards and was the MVP of the Rising Stars game during all-star weekend.

Nash is the general manager of Canada's men's team, and said with the emergence Wiggins and others, this is a golden age for the sport in this country.

"This age is beyond a golden age," Nash said. "Let's hope though that it's not just a moment in time, and that we've turned a corner as far as how the game as grown.

"It's phenomenal, it's such an amazing place we're in as a country, in the sport, so much young talent and more to come."

The young talent will be on display this summer when Canada plays in the Pan American Games in Toronto, and then the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament the following month in Mexico.

Nash said he hopes Canadian players embrace the Pan Am Games.

"It's an amazing opportunity for the program, but I think it's an even more unique and amazing opportunity for our players," Nash said. "We never really got the opportunity to play a meaningful Games in our own country so for these guys — and a lot of our team is from Toronto — to be able to play in their hometown or in their home country, it's an opportunity I wish I had.

"I really want to implore those guys to take it, and not just come play obviously but to really take it all in, and try to put on a good show by becoming a team and trying to be No. 1."

With 12 Canadians playing in the NBA, the squad should have more depth than ever before. Nash said it's inevitable that there will come a time that they'll have to cut an NBA player.

"So whether they're not on the team this qualifying, or at the Olympics or the next world championships, they're a part of the program, they're pushing each other to make it, and succeed, and if 12 (other) guys go this time, maybe you're in the group that goes next time," Nash said.

"If you look at the national hockey team. . . a lot of guys are going to get cut who are phenomenal players, and you have to at some point say 'OK I didn't make it this time, but I'm going to root for the boys and I'm going to be there next time because I'm going to bust my butt to be there.' And that's the way these guys have to approach it."

Nash was appearing Monday as the global ambassador for Tangerine's sponsorship program #BrightWayForward. The deal includes a multi-year partnership with Canada Basketball and the Steve Nash Youth Basketball program.

Nash has played in just 65 regular-season games for the Lakers since he signed a three-year contract that will pay him $9.7 million this season. The two-time NBA MVP appeared in three games in this past pre-season, but wasn't able to begin what would have been his 19th NBA season.

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