When Steve Nash talks, you listen.
It was quite the treat for the Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, girls’ varsity soccer team to chat with the Brooklyn Nets head coach the day before the Clippers were to play in the GCHSAA Tier 1 city championship final.
Following a third straight Brooklyn/Queens diocesan title, Xaverian was poised to capture its third straight city title. Some words of encouragement from an NBA legend – who also happens to be a huge soccer fan – were just what the student-athletes needed to get over the hump.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Xaverian senior outside/center midfielder Makaylee Barbara. “We went to practice that day as normal and went through our regular warmup. And then next thing we know, we’re having a conversation with Steve Nash.”
The basketball accolades for Nash are endless. The 18-year veteran was a two-time MVP with the Phoenix Suns who was enshrined to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2018. The eight-time All-Star point guard led the league in assists five times, is a member of the Suns Ring of Honor and was recently named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Prior to accepting the head coaching job for the Nets, Nash was a part-time consultant for the Golden State Warriors, a budding dynasty team which won back-to-back NBA Finals in 2017 and 2018 with Nash on board. All of this to say, Nash knows winning.
Nash’s love of soccer led him to starting a friendship with Carlos Jaguande, Xaverian’s soccer program director. Born in Peru, Jaguande earned two appearances in international soccer matches for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the early 1990s.
Jaguande asked Nash if he could stop by a practice to talk to the Xaverian team before their city championship match. Nash agreed, and he showed up with his daughter Ruby to offer some words of wisdom as the Clippers attempted to win a third-straight city title.
Nash spoke about having a championship mentality while emphasizing the need to always compete, especially when it comes to the little things. The student-athletes asked thoughtful questions about how to control their nerves prior to the game as well as how to handle the pressure of being down in a championship game.
“The main thing he (Nash) talked about with us was trusting in your process,” said Erin Meagher, Xaverian’s head varsity girls’ soccer coach. “When you get to the end of the season, sure there’s a little luck involved, but more than anything you have to trust in the work that you did up until this point.
“There’s a reason you’re here, so try to keep your nerves under control and trust in the hard work that you’ve done. If you compete every time, you’re hard to beat.”
Right before the start of the city championship against St. Joseph Hill Academy, Staten Island, Jaguande received a text from Nash wishing the Clippers good luck and reminding them to compete on every play. With the score tied 1-1 in overtime, junior Riley Mullen, who scored the team’s first goal, found the back of the net for the sudden-death winner and the third-straight city crown.
“Winning all the little things eventually adds up,” Meagher said. “For me as a coach who constantly talks about doing the little things right, there were moments there when I said, ‘Steve Nash is saying the same things I’m saying.’ When you hear it from someone who has been so successful, those were really great messages for the girls to hear.”
The Clippers then traveled up to Buffalo, N.Y., for the state tournament. Another hard-fought match ended this time with Xaverian losing 2-1 to St. Mary’s H.S., Lancaster, N.Y., after a second round of penalty kicks. The team finished the season with an overall record of 11-2.
Even though many of the Xaverian players weren’t born yet or were very young during Nash’s heyday, they quickly learned through the power of Google just how much of an impact star he was during his NBA career. The girls have already asked if a visit from Nash can become an annual occurrence.
“It was so cool,” said Xaverian senior outside back/wing Cate Anderson. “A lot of us weren’t fully aware of who he was, so when we came to realize it and that he took the time out of his day to come see us, it was awesome. This is a star athlete who you can’t even describe. People dream about being at the level that he was at.”
One thing’s for sure: The student-athletes at Xaverian have found themselves watching many more Brooklyn Nets game these past few weeks.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.