By Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Steve Nash had a good chuckle at ESPN personality Jason Whitlock’s suggestion that Canadians in the NBA are not as motivated to succeed as their American counterparts.
“Andrew Wiggins is from Canada,” Whitlock said on Keith Olbermann’s ESPN show Monday night. “And Canadian athletes, I think, among NBA players and NBA people, perhaps don’t want it as much as even some of the Europeans, and certainly the American players.”
Nash, a two-time NBA MVP and the general manager of Canada’s senior men’s squad, was in town for a three-day camp before the team departed for a European exhibition series. He responded to Whitlock’s comments after the team’s final practice.
“It’s a wonderful sweeping generalization, really good. Hit it on the head there,” Nash said.
The 40-year-old, who broke into the league during the 1996-97 season with the Phoenix Suns, admitted he had to overcome knocks in his game as a young player making a name for himself. He said Wiggins will have to learn to silence his critics too.
“I had to prove that I was athletic enough to play in the NBA,” said the Los Angeles Lakers point guard. “His athleticism isn’t a question, they’re worrying about his motivation and desire.
“He’ll overcome it. He’ll take that criticism, like he always has over the last four or five years, and overcome it. There’s times where we’d always like to see him show a little more alpha male, but when the game’s on the line, I never see him turn away slights as motivation and he’ll overcome it.”
When asked about the perception in the NBA that Canadian players are not tough enough or eager enough, Canada head coach Jay Triano had a differing opinion.
“Steve’s pretty tough to play and be able to do what he’s doing,” Triano said. “I think Tristan (Thompson) is a tough player. Robert Sacre is a tough player. Maybe we’ll go on this trip and drop the gloves a little bit and create that hockey mentality then we’ll define ourselves a little bit better.”
Triano added that the upcoming 11-game, 20-day European road trip will play a big part in defining his team’s toughness.
“We’re going to be playing against men who are representing their country and getting ready to play in the (World Cup) on their soil,” said Triano. “This isn’t going to be easy. We’ll find out a little bit about our toughness while we’re on this trip and I think it’s something that will evolve as these players get more experience.”
On Tuesday, Canada Basketball announced its 15-man roster for the exhibition trip, which includes Cory Joseph (San Antonio), Andrew Nicholson (Orlando), Kelly Olynyk (Boston) and Robert Sacre (Lakers).
Noticeably absent from the roster are the likes of Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (Cleveland) and Tyler Ennis (Phoenix). Both Ennis and Bennett have been around the three-day training camp, but did not participate.
“Maybe next summer when the Olympics are on the line, we can get everybody together, but we’re talking about so many dynamics: the schedule, bodies, what their (NBA) clubs want, what their teams feel is best for them at this time in their career,” said Nash. “Even the guys that aren’t on the trip, AB (Bennett), Tyler came by today, Tristan last night. Guys want to be a part of it.
“I think we’re going to have a great turnout next summer when it really matters and we’ve got enough guys here this summer for it to make a difference.”
The team departed for its four-city road trip on Tuesday. Canada opens Thursday against Slovenia and will also play in Croatia, Italy and Spain before returning home Aug. 13.
Canada will play games against World Cup host Spain and qualifiers Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia (twice), Serbia, Turkey and Angola. They will also play exhibition games with non-qualifiers Georgia, Italy and Bosnia.