Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1974, and his family moved to Canada when he was 2 years old. Growing up, soccer was where he excelled; he didn’t start to really shine in basketball until the eighth grade. In high school, he harbored serious ambitions for a pro career. As he told the convocation audience, “I wanted to go to a big Division I school and become a star—these big dreams. But nobody wanted me to go to their school…”
But Santa Clara’s Dick Davey heard that Nash might have something special and went to Vancouver to see him play. At convocation, Nash paid tribute to Davey and the other Santa Clara coaches for being “extremely honest,” and for instilling in him and his teammates the capacity to be self-critical. “They were hard on us, they pushed us,” he said, “and they were incredible at helping us develop as players—and, as a byproduct, as people. Not a chance would I have had the career, the success, without my coaches.”
Nash also recalled that initial meeting with Davey inside the Agrodome in Vancouver. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re the worst defender I’ve ever seen,’” Nash said. “Which was a real confidence builder.”
In retrospect, Nash said, “I couldn’t have gone to a more perfect university for me. And I think that, in many ways, everyone can find that in Santa Clara…. Even if I had gone to another university, I don’t know if I would have even been a professional basketball player.”
As Davey has told it, after Nash overheard the remark about his lack of defense skills, the high schooler came out of the arena and, instead of offering excuses, asked the Santa Clara coach how he could improve. Davey took that as a very good sign.
At convocation, Nash led a round of applause for the coaches—and another for his fellow Santa Clara teammates. A number of the Broncos he played with came back to campus for Welcome Weekend—”I guess as an excuse to go to The Hut,” Nash said. Monday morning, Nash and his fellow alumni scrimmaged against the current Bronco lineup. The night before saw an extended visit to the legendary watering hole just off campus.
When Nash spoke at convocation, he didn’t bring a prepared talk or even notes, since every time he tries to write something, he said, he winds up with something too sentimental or clichÈd. That was one reason he asked his audience to bear with him in the casual nature of his remarks. He offered another, less philosophical excuse: “I’m feeling a little dehydrated.”
The fact is, Nash’s off-the-cuff remarks hit home with the students. He was real. And he was, as he said, one of them. As for his teammates, “We pushed each other through everything,” Nash said. “I’ll always feel like they’re, without being too cheesy, my family and my brothers…. It’s such a great quality to be selfless and to make people around you better. My teammates were always super supportive, competitive.”
Nash told today’s students, “You guys have the same opportunity, as classmates and through the relationships that you develop, to make each other better, to make the school better, to represent yourself and the school and the community better. All of you have a chance and a decision to make about your attitude and what kind of leader you’re going to be.”
That led to another observation: “I think Santa Clara is taking over the world, by the way…. We have the mayor of San Francisco, a starting outfielder for the Giants.” (Nash was classmates with Randy Winn ’96, who played basketball for a season at Santa Clara before devoting himself to baseball.) “Everywhere you go,” Nash said, “someone from Santa Clara is doing something special. So you will be the next ones to do that. And I really want you guys to take advantage and make the most of your time here…. You will never be able to recreate this atmosphere, this environment. So make the most of it.”
Nash earned his degree from Santa Clara in sociology. While he’s the first to acknowledge that his real major was basketball, he credited his studies in sociology with opening his eyes “pretty wide, pretty quickly, learning a lot about the world, learning a lot about people and society.” And among the book titles that have cropped up in chats with journalists are The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the autobiography of Che Guevara, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
“A huge theme in my life,” he told the audience at convocation, has been “having an understanding and an acceptance of our differences, of individual psychology, but also as a community as a whole.”