Steve Nash's 'extreme confidence' inspired Zamalek's DJ Strawberry

ByLindsay du Plessis via ESPN logo
Friday, April 8, 2022

Former Phoenix Suns guard DJ Strawberry may have played alongside Steve Nash for just one season, but the now-Brooklyn Nets coach, with his work ethic and confidence, left a lasting impression on Strawberry as a rookie.

Strawberry, whonow plays for Basketball Africa League champions Zamalek, was drafted 59th overall out of Maryland by the Suns in 2007. He played on a star-studded team alongside Hall of Famer Nash, Grant Hill, Shaquille O'Neal, and Leandro Barbosa.

The 36-year-old, who has played all around the globe after that season with the Suns, told ESPN: "Those guys put in the work. They are who they are for a reason -- because of the work that they put in.

"I haven't seen too many people work harder than Steve Nash, just shooting every day, working every day. It didn't matter whether he was tired or sick. He was putting in the work every day.

"If you look at Steve Nash's game, confidence was big in how he played, because he didn't really care about making a turnover. Any kind of pass, he would try, because he believed he could do it, and if he turned it over, he was like, 'Ok, I'll try it again because I know I can do it.'

"You have to have extreme confidence in yourself to play at any high level of basketball."

Strawberry, whose father is New York Mets Hall of Famer and MLB legend Darryl Strawberry, is no stranger to the vagaries of professional sports, and looks back on his time with the Suns with realistic fondness rather than disappointment.

Time and experience granted the space for him to appreciate it for what it was, he said: "Making the NBA and sticking in the NBA is very hard. It's very difficult. You've got new guys coming in, rookies coming in every year, looking to take your spot.

"It's just organisational, and the team that I was on... look at the roster. Me coming on as a rookie, how do you expect me to even get on the court with those guys?

READ: Everything you need to know about the BAL

"We had Steve Nash, we had [Leandro] Barbosa, who was Sixth Man of the Year. I'm playing in the same spot as these guys. We had Grant Hill; we had Amar'e Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal. Just hall-of-famers everywhere.

"For me to even have that experience and get on the court and play and establish relationships with those guys was unbelievable.

"Unfortunately, it was only one year and it didn't work out, but a disappointment? No, because there are millions of people that would love to be in my shoes even for that one year."

Strawberry, along with former LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors forward Ike Diogu, is tasked with helping Egypt's Zamalek defend their BAL title this year, and the first step will be to make it out of the Nile Conference in Cairo this month.

It is widely expected that they will finish in the top four and advance to the playoffs in Rwanda in May, where Strawberry is set to meet up with fellow Maryland Terrapins alum Terrell Stoglin, whose AS Sale team advanced out of the Sahara Conference back in March.

Strawberry said of potentially going up against his friend and the BAL's scoring record holder: "I've watched him in college and watched him professionally.

"He's an unbelievable player and always has been an unbelievable player and I always enjoy watching him play.

"Obviously it's always great to compete against one of your friends -- someone who you know and have watched -- but right now, we're just focused on what we have to do here. When we get there, we'll figure it out."

Zamalek start their title defence against South Sudan's Cobra Sport on April 9, and will also come up against Angola's Petro de Luanda, DR Congo's Espoir Fukash, Cameroon's FAP, and South Africa's Cape Town Tigers over the next 10 days.

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