When Santa Clara's Steve Nash is one of the first point guards taken in the NBA draft next June, it will give him one more chance to tweak the major conference schools that wouldn't risk a scholarship on him.
Four years ago, the powers that be weren't interested in Nash, even though he had shown his athleticism in a variety of sports, was 6 feet 3 and had excellent range on his jumper. Nash grew up a two-hour drive from the site of last season's Final Four, but across the Canadian border, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The majors completely ignored him, despite his attention-getting efforts.
"I played at the Nike tournament in Las Vegas before my senior year of high school, but it was for a mediocre British Columbia team," Nash said. "While we were playing Nebraska, everyone was watching Duane Simpkins outplay Jason Kidd. They were the point guards that people were after.
"The year before that, I spent the summer in Washington, D.C. A friend went to visit his grandmom in Georgetown, and I went along with the idea of playing a lot of basketball. I played pickup ball at the college [Georgetown] and some schoolyards. Guys asked 'Where are you going to school?' But no one that counts ever saw me."
Nash wrote to 30 coaches, and kept rejection letters from the likes of Georgetown, Maryland and Arizona, the team that Santa Clara upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1993. He was a freshman then, and already being hailed as the second coming of John Stockton in the West Coast Conference.
Forty-four teams got more votes than Santa Clara in the AP poll this week, even though its non-conference schedule had the Broncos up to No. 11 last week in the ratings percentage index, the formula used by the NCAA to seed the 64-team tournament. Santa Clara has beaten UCLA, Michigan State and Georgia Tech, and lost to Villanova, Marquette and Penn State.
"Obviously, the major schools get more attention," Nash said. "We're dealing with a lot of stereotypes that go with being in a mid-major conference. There are probably a lot more writers from the East voting in the polls. Besides, you don't see any WCC games on ESPN."
Bright can't miss
How focused has Donta Bright been in Marcus Camby's absence?
Enough to connect on a school-record 35 straight free throws, a streak which has helped unbeaten Massachusetts remain No. 1.
Bright, the senior forward from Dunbar, made 67.1 percent of his TC free throws as a sophomore and junior, and was at 75.8 percent before his streak started at St. Bonaventure on Jan. 14, the day Camby collapsed with an ailment that remains undiagnosed. In the four games that Camby missed, Bright averaged 21.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
"There's no explanation for it," Bright said of his recent perfection at the line. "I shoot 50 free throws before practice, and 50 after, but I've done that since I got here. I didn't know I only made 67 percent my first two years. That surprises me."
Camby will play against St. Bonaventure tomorrow, when the Minutemen continue their quest to become the first team to go unbeaten in the regular season since UNLV in 1990-91. The biggest stumbling blocks will come next Thursday at Temple and Feb. 17 at Virginia Tech.
Losses for Lefty
James Madison (5-12) is stuck in eighth place in the Colonial Athletic Association, and Lefty Driesell's streak of non-losing seasons most likely will end at 32.
Driesell's only losing season came in 1960-61, when he was a rookie head coach and Davidson went 9-14. He made JMU the regular-season scourge of the CAA, thanks to transfers like Maryland's Steve Hood, LSU's Fess Irvin and Georgetown's Mike Venson, but the Dukes' administration has stressed more high school recruits.
The JMU roster includes five freshmen. It will get two more next year and a junior-college transfer, Allegany forward Chatney Howard, who played at Southern-AA.
"I've been coaching 39 years and I've never had a season like this," Driesell said. "I don't know who to play. I might as well say wait until next year."
Next season is the final one on Driesell's contract. Assistant coach Chuck Driesell is in the wings when his father, 64, steps down, but some alumni are lukewarm to that notion.
Get well, Bear
Another coaching legend, Texas-El Paso's Don Haskins, suffered a heart attack Saturday during a game against New Mexico and underwent triple-bypass surgery Tuesday.
"The Bear" is the third-winningest active Division I coach, behind Dean Smith and Jim Phelan, but a greater legacy is the push he gave integration in 1966. That's when all-black UTEP, then known as Texas Western, beat all-white Kentucky and Adolph Rupp in the NCAA final at Cole Field House.
"He's a great man," said Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who starred on some of Haskins' first Texas Western teams. "He's done so much for me. I'm kind of depressed about his situation, but he is improving. I'm going to take some time next week and go to El Paso to visit him."