VANCOUVER, B.C. — What Hasheem Thabeet can do on the basketball court remains to be seen, but his skill on the pitch made a good impression Saturday.
Thabeet, selected No. 2 in this year's NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, showcased his soccer ability at Steve Nash's Showdown in Downtown charity game.
The seven-foot-three centre from Africa scored twice and set up Nash for another as the team of ringers led by the Phoenix Suns' point guard schooled a squad from the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program 10-5.
"I'm impressed," said Nash, who scored three goals during the eight-a-side kick-around on a small pitch that encouraged fancy footwork and gave fans a feeling of intimacy with the players.
"I know they love (soccer) in Africa. He played a lot as a kid and that's probably why he's such a highly regarded young basketball player.
"His footwork was very impressive. He put on a show. He was the big surprise of the day."
The towering Tanzanian, who is expected to bring more rebounding to the Grizzlies, appeared awkward at times because of his height and wingspan.
But he didn't look out of place when he put Nash's side up 3-1 by chesting down a pass and beating a defender off the dribble with his long strides.
He also finished a cross from former French international Youri Djorkaeff, who has played in soccer showdowns in New York for the Steve Nash Foundation which assists underprivileged youth.
Djorkaeff also scored three goals and the rest were supplied by former Whitecaps, a club in which Nash has an ownership stake and which moves to Major League Soccer in 2011 from the United Soccer Leagues First Division.
Los Angeles Clippers point guard Baron Davis was also in uniform for Nash's octet but didn't see action, looking cool on the sidelines in long basketball-style shorts and a black tuque.
"By me not playing it helped us get that victory," said the bearded Davis. "I just wanted to do some good coaching and be here and support the charity.
"I would have embarrassed myself."
Thatbeet, however, had a few embarrassing moments including a hand ball that the referee ignored with a smile and he tumbled to the turf more than once.
But he comes by his soccer skills honestly.
"I grew up playing it," said Thabeet who expects the lowly Grizzlies, who left Vancouver in 2001, to make the playoffs for only the second time in their history with the addition of Allen Iverson. "You don't forget what you grew up with."
Soccer helped his footwork on the hardwood, said Thabeet.
"You've got to run and kick the ball at the same time. It helped me a lot. I still believe I've got (soccer) skills. I'd watch moves on YouTube and go back and try to practise them."
It was a busy weekend for Nash, who received an honourary law degree Friday from the University of Victoria where, as a teenager, he sneaked into the gym late at night to shoot hoops.
The free soccer game, which attracted a crowd standing five deep around the field, was bookended by a $1,500-a-plate dinner Friday night and a $100-a-ticket nightclub afterparty on Saturday.
Soccer was a close second to basketball for Nash, who starred on the court for Santa Clara University.
"I'd dream of coming into a stadium with 75,000 fans screaming and singing but I've got to be pretty thankful with the career I have," said the two-time MVP whose foundation supports youth basketball in Canada and has projects in Uganda and Paraguay.
He once merged the two sports at the 2005 slam dunk contest at the NBA's all-star weekend when Suns teammate Amare Soudemire jammed his soccer-style header.
NOTES: Nash's father John was a second-half substitute but brother Martin, a Whitecaps midfielder, didn't play because of an injury ... Nash will be back on the court here on Oct. 22 for an NBA exhibition game against Portland but said playing for Canada at the world championships next year is "a longshot."
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