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September 26, 2007What can convince 10 of the top point guards in college basketball to cut their summer vacations short and make a trip to New Jersey? A personal invitation from Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash.
In early July, Nash held the first Steve Nash Skills Academy in Union, N.J. The event is a three-day camp for the nation's top college and prep point guards, and it is run by Nike. No player who attended was taller than 6 feet 2.
Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Amare Stoudemire held similar camps for players at their positions. However, Nash - a two-time MVP - was the only one to invite college players.
His guest list was an impressive one.
Texas' D.J. Augustin, Kansas' Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins, UCLA's Darren Collison, Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor, Michigan State's Drew Neitzel, Duke's Greg Paulus, Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo, Villanova's Scottie Reynolds and Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace made the trip. Seven of those players (Augustin, Chalmers, Collison, Maynor, Neitzel, Pargo and Reynolds) were all-conference performers last season. Each worked as a counselor for the 22 high school players while also working on drills taught by Nash.
"One of my coaches told me I got invited and I got really excited," Maynor told Rivals.com. "I knew it was a chance to learn from one of the best point guards in the world, if not the best."
Nash showed Maynor and the rest of his eager peers many of the nuances of playing point guard in the NBA, particularly some of the edges that can be gained while running the pick-and-roll.
"It was a great experience," Paulus said. "I got to play at the highest level with the instruction of NBA players. I got to learn what it takes to play in the NBA."
The camp was the first time Paulus played against someone since he had surgery to repair a left foot injury after the season. Paulus said he has fully recovered.
Nash also offered advice on some of the specific attributes a point guard should embody.
"He emphasized keeping the team involved and following out the tasks coaches give you," Augustin said. "He said a lot of veteran guards will try to speed up the tempo against younger guards to try and distract them from carrying out their task.
Nobody may have benefited more than Maynor. A little-known player on the national level, that changed when he hit the game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds to play to lift VCU to a first-round NCAA Tournament upset over Duke. It was one of the most memorable shots of the tourney.
"I think it was really good for me because coming from a mid-major school, I wouldn't get to play against these guys unless it was in the NCAA Tournament," Maynor said. "I don't feel like there was any difference between mid-major and high-major at the camp. I felt like I was supposed to be there. It helped my confidence."
It showed at the tryouts for the Pan American Games the following week. Maynor was one of 30 invitees, and he ultimately earned one of the 12 spots on the team. Neitzel and Reynolds also made the squad.
Paulus and Maynor were involved in a couple of heated confrontations during VCU's upset over Duke, including a couple of collisions and an exchange of words after a hard foul. The other players reminded them of the incidents at dinner one night.
"Some of the other guys brought it up, but we can joke about it now," Maynor said. "It's not a big deal. Greg has a strong desire to win, just like me. We both respect each other and we're friends now."
They also are former teammates. At the end of the camp, the high schoolers - led by North Carolina commit Larry Drew, Washington commit Isaiah Thomas and five-star 2009 prospect Derek Strickland - faced off against the college players in a series of games. The college players went undefeated, but not before surviving a close call.
"There was one game where the young guys really gave us a little run," Augustin said. "They were pretty good and it went into overtime, but we came out on top. We weren't going to let them beat us."
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.