Suns' Nash launched his basketball career in Utah
Win over powerhouse Arizona at Huntsman Center in '93 NCAA tourney put Steve Nash, Santa Clara on map.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Phoenix • Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash was born in South Africa and raised in western Canada.

His basketball career took off at Santa Clara University and he will undoubtedly land in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Where was the launching pad for this incredible journey?

Salt Lake City.

In 1993, Nash was a little-known freshman point guard for little-known Santa Clara.

The Broncos were matched against powerful Arizona in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at the Huntsman Center.

Nobody gave them a chance.

Of course, nobody knew much about Nash.

In one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, Santa Clara defeated the Wildcats 64-61.

"I remember feeling amazed that I was on a stage that big, playing against a team that good," Nash recalled.

"And I remember the excitement of being able to hang around, the noise level building and the crowd believing in us."

Santa Clara built a 33-21 lead in the first half before Arizona rallied.

In fact, the Wildcats scored 25 straight points and took a 46-33 lead.

During the blitz, Bronco coach Dick Davey called timeout but didn't know what to tell his players.

"I'm so intelligent," Davey said. "I let them sit there for about two minutes before I said, 'Gentlemen, we have to score.' Great coaching, huh?"

Santa Clara fought back and won, despite Nash missing two free throws in the final seconds.

"I was nervous as hell," he said.

How shocking was Santa Clara's win?

Early the next morning, Davey received a phone call from the manager of the team's hotel.

Conventiongoers would be arriving soon, he said, and the Broncos' rooms had been rented to them.

"They moved us to Arizona's hotel," Davey said.

Santa Clara lost in the second round of the tournament, but Nash and the Broncos were on the national radar.

He led Santa Clara to two more NCAA Tournaments and, along the way, was named the West Conference Conference Player of the Year.

Not bad for a high-school player nobody wanted.

"I saw him at the provincial championships," Davey said. "I know this sounds crazy, but they came out for warm-ups and within 30 seconds I knew Steve was really good.

"Just the way he handled the ball and handled himself. … I was hoping nobody else was there because they would have thought the same thing."

At Santa Clara, Nash went from a player the big schools didn't want to a first-round draft pick.

"He was a Pied Piper for our team," said Davey, who is now the associate head coach at Stanford.

"He would go back to the gym at 11 o'clock at night, the other kids would follow him and they would end up playing 3-on-3. … He made himself into a great player through self-determination."

Nash started his pro career in Phoenix and went to Dallas before returning to the Suns six seasons ago.

On Tuesday night against the Jazz, Nash needs nine assists to pass Gary Payton for seventh place on the all-time list.

He needs only 42 assists to reach 9,000 in his career.

But will he continue playing in Phoenix?

Because the Suns aren't championship contenders — and because the 37-year-old Nash will earn $11.7 million next season — stories have circulated that he might be traded before the Feb. 24 deadline.

Not true, apparently.

Said Lon Babby, Suns president of basketball operations: "What we hope to accomplish — and I'm not suggesting it will be easy — is to remain very competitive through the Steve Nash years and, at the same time, continue to get better. … That's the hope."

Nash wants to stay in Phoenix "and fight with these guys. I feel a sense of loyalty and belonging to this organization. I want to do the best I can for them."

This season, Nash averages 16.8 points and 11.2 assists.

"I wasn't here during his MVP years," Babby said. "But it's hard to imagine him playing at a higher level than what I'm seeing every night. It's been a joy watching him play."

That's why Babby says Nash is staying.

"There's no way Steve's the problem — he's the solution," he said. " … People suggest you should dismantle the team and prepare for the future. The catchphrase is, 'Blow it up.'

" … Now, obviously, you have to consider all the possibilities. But to me, blowing it up means you are headed into a long, cold, dark winter. And we don't have long, cold, dark winters in Phoenix."

luhm@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sluhm —

The Steve Nash file

Place of birth • Johannesburg, South Africa

Date of birth • Feb. 7, 1974

High school • St. Michaels University School (Victoria, B.C.)

College • Santa Clara

Position • Point guard

Height • 6-3

Weight • 180

Career highlights • Two-time West Coast Conference player of the year at Santa Clara. … Drafted 15th by Phoenix in 1996. … Traded to Dallas in 1998. … Played in the first of seven All-Star Games in 2001. … Signed by Phoenix as free agent before the 2004-05 season. … Was the back-to-back MVP in 2005 and 2006. … Canada's athlete of the year in 2005. … For his philanthropy, received the Order of Canada in 2007. … Received J. Walter Kennedy citizenship award from Pro Basketball Writers Association in 2007 —

Jazz vs. Suns

P At U.S. Airways Center,7 p.m. MST

TV • FSN Utah

Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Jazz 31-24, Suns 25-26

Last meeting • Suns, 95-83 (Friday)

About the Jazz • They have lost two straight, three of their past four and 11 of their past 15. … They are 16-16 against the West. … In four games since returning from a wrist injury, PG Deron Williams averages 16.5 points and nine assists. He's made 28 of 63 shots, including 3 of 16 3-pointers.

About the Suns • They have won three of four and six of their past eight to rejoin the playoff race in the West. … They have beaten Utah four straight times by a total of 52 points. … In two games this season, their bench has outscored Utah's nonstarters 93-33.