Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Santa Clara's Nash Proves He Can Play with the Best

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Santa Clara's Nash Proves He Can Play with the Best

Article excerpt

Jason Kidd and Gary Payton have an endorsement to make that has nothing to do with shoes, basketballs or even money.

They have stamped their seal of approval on Steve Nash, Santa Clara's 6-foot-3 senior point guard. So much so that they allowed him to work out with them last summer and have taken an interest in his progress toward joining them in the NBA.

"I compare him," Kidd said, "to John Stockton."

"Right now, he's got a lot of Mark Price in him," Payton said. "(Jeff) Hornacek, too."

That, for the record, was the NBA's co-rookie of the year (Kidd) and an all-star point guard (Payton) comparing Nash - a Canadian who four years ago was begging for a look from any U.S. college - to three more NBA All-Stars, one who is the NBA's career assists leader (Stockton) and another who is its most accurate free-throw shooter ever (Price).

But that endorsement only goes so far. Payton, in particular, also emphasizes that Nash is a work in progress who, if he were in the NBA today, probably would be embarrassed more than occasionally on defense and shocked by how well defenders adjust to his every move.

As Nash figures, better to know that now than a year from now.

He entered the workouts with the Oakland-based NBA stars - about 10 sessions in all; maybe six with the Dallas Mavericks' Kidd and four with the Seattle Sonics' Payton and the Orlando Magic's Brian Shaw - with trepidation. The confidence gained in three seasons at Santa Clara and three summers of international experience could be shattered in a few short hours.

"Of course I was nervous. TV makes them look like gods," Nash said. "While there was that feeling, I overcame it by saying, `If they show me I don't belong, it's good that they show me now, because in a year I will belong.' "

Nash trained twice a day with Kidd last June at an Alameda facility. He also worked out twice daily with Payton and Shaw, and sometimes with ex-Warrior Sarunas Marciulionis in September, just before the NBA lockout was lifted, in Payton's back yard and later at Cal.

He learned there that NBA players use their bodies much differently than college players, always taking the shortest route past a defender because anything circuitous will be cut off. Nash will apply that to his game this season. He also must develop a low-post game, but that's useless against college zones.

Most important, he learned that he belongs.

"They won theirs, but by the end I won some games," Nash said. "The biggest thing is not that I won games - if you beat Jason one-on-one, you're still not a better player than him - but how far I came. I got to where I could play with them."

Not that there wasn't room for improvement.

"If he had to guard someone one-on-one, he wouldn't do so well right now," Payton said. "On a team like ours, he has to play defense or he'll sit down. …

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