Before Steve Nash’s two MVP seasons

This feature on Steve Nash appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Oct. 9, 2004.

A legitimate leader

By Ed Odeven

When the Phoenix Suns drafted Steve Nash in 1996, fans had mixed reactions: many booed, some cheered. Kevin Johnson was a well-established star then and many wondered why the Suns would spend the 15th pick in the draft on a point guard.

Nash didn’t spend a lot of time in a Suns uniform. In July 1998, when Jason Kidd was the undisputed floor leader of the Suns, Nash was deemed expendable and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Pat Garrity, Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and a future first-round draft pick, which turned out to be Shawn Marion in the 1999 draft.

Over the next six seasons, Nash transformed himself from a capable backup into one of the NBA’s top point guards. He made All-Star appearances in each of the last two seasons.

Nash became a free agent last offseason and signed a four-year deal with the Suns during the summer. It surprised many that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did not match the Suns’ offer (a $65 million contract) or make a serious bid to re-sign him.

“I left pretty green and in many ways unproven, and to come back having gone through a lot of the battles (I have been a part of) I have a lot more confidence and legitimacy. My teammates have been great. They’ve respected me and welcomed me,” Nash said Tuesday, the first day of the Suns’ weeklong preseason training camp in Flagstaff.

Indeed, the Suns, who went 29-53 last season, welcome the 30-year-old Nash back to the Valley with open arms.

First and foremost, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni is cognizant of Nash’s leadership skills.

“The guy’s a winner, obviously, and his intensity and excellent work ethic and everything else (are valuable),” D’Antoni said. “He just brings so much to the table.”

After Stephon Marbury was traded to his hometown New York Knicks in early January, the Suns did not have an experienced point guard. They lost 18 games by five points or less last season, a telltale sign of a team lacking leadership.

Enter Steve Nash.

“I think they felt like I was a perfect fit for this team,” he said. “They have a lot of great talent, and I think for me my attributes are my experience and making my teammates better.

“If I can help these guys improve and help this team reach its potential … that’s why they brought me here.”

The Suns already field a young, athletic nucleus of players, including guards Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, who signed a free-agent deal after playing for four years with the Los Angeles Clippers, and forwards Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Now, Nash will be expected to mold this team into a winner.

“I think he just brings his veteran (leadership) and experience,” said Marion, who was one of only two NBA players (Kevin Garnett was the other) to be in the top 30 in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes last year.

“He’s been in the playoffs on a consistent basis (six straight years with Dallas) and we were lacking experience at point guard, so that’s going to help us become a more seasoned team.”

The Suns want to be a higher-scoring team this year after averaging just 94.2 points a game last season. Nash’s former team led the league with 105.2 ppg compared with the league’s worst-scoring team, Toronto (85.4 ppg).

With Nash running the show, expect the Suns to stick to D’Antoni’s plan of being one of the league’s quicker teams.


“His style is to run up and down,” D’Antoni said. “We always want to do that. We’ll just run a little smarter now with him.”

As a result, the Suns should make better decisions with the basketball.

“He’s a great passer,” Marion said. “He’s an elite-five (player) in the NBA in passing. That says it all right there.”

Added Nash, “I think this is a very talented group, a very athletic team. We have some definite strengths. We are going to be able to score.”

Nash has averaged 7.3 or more assists per game in each of the last four seasons, including a career-high 8.8 apg in 2003-04. In addition, he’s a terrific free-throw shooter (a career average of 89.3 percent) and a dependable 3-point shooter. He’s averaged 12.5 ppg in his career.

Statistics don’t interest Nash, however. Only winning does.

“(Making) the playoffs is the only real goal,” Nash said. “Any other goal, if you don’t make the playoffs, what good is that? So that’s the only goal.”

Along the way, the ex-Santa Clara University standout who now considers himself a “grizzled veteran” will be a mentor to young Suns guards, including Leandro Barbosa, the second-year pro from Brazil, and rookie Yuta Tabuse, a former BYU-Hawaii player who is trying to become the first Japanese-born player to make an NBA roster.

“He always moves the ball and he never stays still on the court,” Barbosa observed. “I think this is different than other point guards. I think (seeing this) has helped me a lot.

“I can learn a lot of things when he moves the ball and I defend him (in practice).”

As Tabuse is surrounded by a throng of Japanese media members on a daily basis, Nash has become his most vocal supporter. After Tuesday’s evening practice concluded, Nash chatted briefly with Tabuse before speaking to the media.

“I told him he should never feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if there’s so much attention here,” Nash said. “I think it’s a difficult situation to be a rookie and be from a different culture and have all this attention.”

On and off the court, Nash knows how to be a leader.

Remembering Howard Garfinkel

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (May 13, 2016) – As the basketball world mourns the passing of Howard Garfinkel, who died at age 86 last weekend, tributes have poured in from all over, and rightfully so.

The one-of-a-kind hoop talent evaluator and co-founder of the Five-Star Basketball Camps made a profound impact on the game, from his native New York to the West Coast, where a coach named John Wooden famously read Garfinkel’s typed analysis of a high school phenom named Lew Alcindor back in the 1960s. (Wooden, like many coaches of that era, relied on Garfinkel’s vast East Coast scouting and beyond and paid for his scouting reports, The New York Times and other media outlets have written.)

Of course, Alcindor, the future Hall of Famer who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, wound up at UCLA, and the rest is history.

In its obituary, The New York Times correctly noted that Garfinkel “changed the landscape of college and professional basketball through an innovative high school scouting service and a celebrated instructional camp that helped groom top young players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James.”

ESPN college analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted, “…One of the most important people in basketball in the last 50 years. RIP Garf.”

Those with a deep knowledge of the game and real respect for its history will tell you this: Garfinkel should be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of a Fame as a contributor. He contributed to the game’s growth and success for decades.

What’s more, Five-Star Basketball Camp, started in 1966 in New York and set up afterward in Pennsylvania, created countless opportunities for coaches to gain experience and further their careers.

Reaching out to many individuals in basketball circles with close ties to Garfinkel, I’ve learned a little bit about his deep personal ties to those spanning several generations. Basketball was their common bond. A shared love of the game.

By all accounts, Garfinkel will be greatly missed.

Legendary college basketball scribe Dick “Hoops” Weiss penned a detailed look at Garfinkel’s life after he passed away. The article was posted on George Raveling’s Coaches for Success website.

Weiss wrote, “Garfinkel died peacefully Saturday morning and there was an outpouring of grief in the basketball community for an American original who lived in an apartment just this side of Broadway, was a fixture at the Garden and used to talk all things basketball during late night meals at the Carnegie Deli. He loved the horses and Broadway show tunes sung by Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.

“But most of all, this beloved Damon Runyonesque character loved basketball and gave up the chance to become rich in his father’s textile business to devote his life to scouting high school talent for a recruiting service he ran and running summer camps for 40 years in the Poconos, Virginia and Pittsburgh that attracted some of the best high school prospects in America. ‘He was the godfather of college basketball recruiting and summer basketball,’ said Tom Konchalski, the legendary talent evaluator from New York City and one of Garfinkel’s two closest friends, along with 89-year old guru Larry ‘The Scout’ Pearlstein.

“I can’t think of six other individuals who had a bigger impact on the game.”

Weiss also delivered this insight in the obituary: “During its heyday, the camp was a proving ground for future legends like Moses Malone, Jeff Ruland, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Len Bias, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Dominique Wilkins, Grant Hill, Alonzo Mourning, Steph Marbury, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It was a magnet for the best college recruiters in the country who made the pilgrimage to out-of-the-way Camp Bryn Mawr in Honesdale, Radford and Robert Morris College every summer to evaluate hundreds of campers, who played shirts and skins games on outdoor courts and listened to Hall of Fame speakers like Bob Knight, Hubie Brown, Chuck Daly, Herb Magee and Dick Vitale before afternoon and evening sessions. There were no free rides, even for the best players, who had to bus tables in the dining hall if they couldn’t afford full tuition.

“Five-Star was worth the price of admission. It was the best teaching camp of its kind, a place where campers actually got better and learned how to play the right way at a series of teaching stations that were developed by Knight to give them the best instruction possible.

“It also an incubator for great young coaches like Rick Pitino, Mike Fratello and John Calipari, who used Five-Star as a giant think tank.

“Calipari was a camper at Five-Star in 1976 and returned to be a counselor and coach when he was a college player at UNC-Wilmington and Clarion State. ‘Without him, I’m not the coach at Kentucky and I’m not able to pay it forward to my kids,’ he wrote in a powerful tribute to Garfinkel on his website. ‘The things that happened to me in my life can all be traced back to Five-Star when I was a camper and a bespectacled man came up to me and said, ‘What’s your name kid? Where are you from?’ I love you Garf’.”

What’s more, Weiss observed, “Five-Star was the birthplace of stars like Michael Jordan.”

Don DiJulia, the director of athletics at Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, reflected on his friend’s life and legacy via email.

DiJulia said Garfinkel was “one of a kind. A man for all seasons. Kind, gentle, purposeful, altruistic, and passionate. Covered more miles in more states than anyone who never drove a car!

“The Master of one-liners…keen eye for talent and champions, on and off the court. He was in sport terms ‘an impact player.’ ”

In closing, DiJulia had this to say: “Mr Howard, thanks for your friendship and the many fond memories!”

New York native Herb Brown, Larry’s big brother, whose coaching career includes college, NBA and international jobs spanning six decades, added this: “He was a great resource for players seeking exposure and scholarships as well as a networker for coaches who worked at his camp.”

Former Philadelphia 76ers GM Brad Greenberg, who drafted future Hall of Famer Allen Iverson, admitted that Garfinkel helped him early in his career.

“Garf certainly impacted my life in a dramatic way,” Greenberg told me. “If not for him, I would not have connected with Jim Lynam when I transferred from Washington State after playing my freshman year for George Raveling to go play for Jim at American University. Jim became my mentor. I played for him and worked for him as well in both college and the NBA. (St. Joe’s AD) Don (DiJulia) was an assistant at American U. and Jim Lynam’s brother-in-law and I also count Don among the people I most admire. I attended 5 Star as a camper and played in 2 Orange-White All-Star Games, and then worked the camp for 10 years.

“The last summer I worked I was the head coach in Pittsburgh and had to leave in the middle of the camp to go to California and meet with Jim Lynam before becoming his assistant with the L.A. Clippers.”

Regarding Garf’s legacy, Greenberg, a longtime coach with stints in the NBA, college and overseas leagues, offered this perspective: “Garf was uniquely special and among the most influential people college basketball has ever had. And he certainly impacted my life as well as my brother Seth. Five Star was a big part of our coaching education. For a young college player with the goal of becoming a coach, Five Star was as good as it gets. Every day was a world-class ‘living clinic’ where you got to rub shoulders with the best in the business. And Garf orchestrated it all.

“He is certainly deserving of Naismith Hall of Fame consideration as he had a direct hand in helping shape so many of the players and coaches already inducted in Springfield. There will never be someone so unique to the game as Garf.”

Former University of Mississippi and Arizona State bench boss Rob Evans, who now works as the University of North Texas associate head coach, has fond memories of his times crossing paths with Garfinkel.

“I went to Garf’s camps in the 80s at both Honesdale, Pa. and Pittsburgh,” Evans told me. “His camps were always so well run and he would take time to give you any information that you asked. He was always moving around watching every kid in the camp. This was back when we had no dead periods. I was fortunate to see him at the Final Four in Houston a few months ago and visit with him. He will certainly be missed.”

Returning to Weiss’ article, Garfinkel’s remarkable impact is clearly defined in the words that follow. “The day Garfinkel died, the Five-Star organization published a testimonial in which they referred to him as a visionary who pioneered the basketball specialty camp and innovated the scouting and evaluation process.

” ‘Garf’ also represents the unmistakable tree in the basketball landscape, one in which every player or coach could trace their roots back to. His eye for talent and evaluation took both prospects and coaches to unprecedented highs and will never be rivaled,’ “it said.

More than 300 coaches employed at the Five Star camp went on to get college coaching jobs, Weiss noted.

“…His legacy lives on in this, the 50th anniversary of the storied camp, which touched so many lives and showcased the talents of thousands of campers, who earned Division I scholarships,” Weiss declared.
Recommended reading:

NCAA alumni in Japan’s Final Four

The upcoming Basketball Japan League (bj-league) Final Four, set for May 14-15 at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum、will include numerous former NCAA players.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Akita Northern Happinets
– C Scott Morrison (Portland State), PF Ray Turner (Texas A&M) and F Richard Roby (Colorado)

Toyama Grouses# – F Duke Crews (Bowie State), F Drew Viney (Loyola Marymount) and  C/F Sam Willard C/F (Pacific)

Kyoto Hannaryz – F Tyren Johnson (Louisiana-Lafayette), F Moses Ehambe (Oral Roberts) and F Kevin Kotzur (St. Mary’s University, Texas)

Ryukyu Golden Kings – F Draelon Burns (DePaul), F Anthony McHenry (Georgia Tech) and Evan Ravenel (Ohio State)

#Coach of the Year Bob Nash, the Toyama sideline boss, starred at the University of Hawaii during the early 1970s before being drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the No. 9 pick in the 1972 NBA Draft.


Part III of Tokyo Apache column series

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (April 24, 2016) — Here’s the third and final installment of a column series on the 2010-11 Tokyo Apache team. Five years later, former NBA and Apache center Robert Swift, who battled heroin addiction, is working to get back into the game as a pro player.

After serving time in prison on gun charges, Swift says basketball and his Christian faith have helped him turn his life around.


More reflections on Bob Hill’s time coaching the Tokyo Apache (part two of a column series)

Cohey Aoki and Darin Maki, both of whom played for Joe Bryant when he coached the Tokyo Apache (2005-09) are featured in part two of my Hoop Scoop column series on the now-defunct Basketball Japan League franchise.

The two guards reflect on Bob Hill’s lone season (2010-11) in charge. Their season was cut short by the Great East Japan Earthquake, when the Apache suspended operations. Then, weeks later, the Apache owner decided to pull the team out of the league for good.

That said, Hill made a lasting positive impression on Aoki and Maki, and others.