There was a time, Steve Nash says, when Canadians were skeptical about a young player who would set his sights high and dream of making it to the NBA.
Nash went through it, being constantly told he was too small to make his mark in the game only Americans played.
That was when Nash was a teenager playing high-school basketball in Victoria before earning a scholarship to Santa Clara University in California. He is currently enjoying a 17-year NBA career in which he established himself as one of game's best point guards, securing two league most valuable player awards along the way.
"There was a time I think in this country where people would look down upon you if you had a goal that was too high in this game," Nash said Monday after announcing the list of 18 players who will take part in the national senior men's training camp later this week at the Air Canada Centre. "And that's no longer the case here.
"This really is the golden age of Canadian basketball," said Nash, 39, and entering his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers. "You look around the country and around the world and what our athletes are able to do at every single level, we're thriving. And we have talent and potential depth at every age group."
As the general manager of the Canadian men's senior team, a job he accepted last summer, it is Nash's job to help put the program back on the world map. The Canadian men have not made the Olympics since 2000, when Nash was the team leader and starting point guard.
It has been an exciting year for Canada and Canadian basketball, highlighted by the historic first-overall selection of Anthony Bennett in the NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kelly Olynyk, another Toronto native, went 13th overall to the Dallas Mavericks, who traded his rights to the Boston Celtics.
Andrew Wiggins of Vaughan, Ont., the top high-school prospect this past season, who will play at the University of Kansas this coming year, is already being touted as the odds-on No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
"Around the world people are starting to take notice," Canada head coach Jay Triano said. "The depth that we have in our country is better than it's ever been."
Nash noted Canadian athletes these days are no longer sheltered when it comes to taking up the game and that from a young age they are exposed to the best competition world-wide.
"All of our top players are playing against the best players in their age groups in the States and internationally," he said. "I think that's something that was different than when I was in high school. I had maybe one opportunity to go and play in a tournament in the States and you never know who you'd get to see."
Nash was asked what made him different to be able to succeed when he was starting out.
"Maybe partly delusional," he said. "I always thought that if you get a little bit better every day, why is there a ceiling? So I always just kept at it every single day. I didn't take any days off and stuck with the plan and a vision.
"A lot of days I didn't want to do it, but I knew if I was going to realize this little project I'd have to stick with it."
The immediate goal for the men's team will be to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. The qualification tournament will be held in Caracas from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11.
Canada will be in tough as both Bennett (shoulder) and Olynyk (foot) are injured and won't be able to play. Wiggins has also sent his regrets, telling Basketball Canada his first-year commitments to Kansas will prevent him from playing.
Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be among the Canadian NBA players who will be at camp, along with Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs), Joel Anthony (Miami Heat) and Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic).
Full senior men's national team roster at Toronto camp:
|Jermaine Anderson||Guard||6-2||Toronto, Ont.|
|Joel Anthony||Centre||6-9||Montreal, Que.|
|Olu Ashaolu||Forward||6-7||Toronto, Ont.|
|Junior Cadougan||Guard||6-1||Toronto, Ont.|
|Aaron Doornekamp||Forward||6-6||Odessa, Ont.|
|Carl English||Guard||6-5||St. John's, N.L.|
|Brady Heslip||Guard||6-2||Burlington, Ont.|
|Cory Joseph||Guard||6-3||Pickering, Ont.|
|Devoe Joseph||Guard||6-4||Pickering, Ont.|
|Kris Joseph||Forward||6-7||Montreal, Que.|
|Myck Kabongo||Guard||6-1||Toronto, Ont.|
|Levon Kendall||Forward||6-10||Vancouver, B.C.|
|Kyle Landry||Forward||6-9||Calgary, Alta.|
|Andrew Nicholson||Forward||6-9||Mississauga, Ont.|
|Andrew Rautins||Guard||6-4||Syracuse, N.Y.|
|Philip Scrubb||Guard||6-3||Richmond, B.C.|
|Jevohn Shepherd||Forward||6-5||Scarborough, Ont.|
|Tristan Thompson||Forward||6-9||Brampton, Ont.|