From France with a Family Flair - Nando De Colo

The Spurs rookie from France stood near the baseline, back to the basket, his path to the paint and view of the post obstructed by a defender on his hip.

Somewhere in the back of Nando De Colo’s head, eyes caught a glimpse of a teammate beneath the rim. With his right hand, De Colo threw a sneaky, behind-the-back bounce pass to Derrick Brown.

To the announcing crew -- “Did you see that!” -- it looked like a spectacular, blind assist. To De Colo, it was simple execution. He discerned a teammate in scoring position, guarded by two Houston Rockets, with a third approaching, and delivered a perfect pass. Brown grabbed the ball, spun around a tangle of arms and legs and laid the ball in.

Such plays throughout the preseason added to a growing reputation and begged a question: Where did De Colo learn to pass like that?

It might have been from his dad, Bruno De Colo, a 6-foot-1 point guard with exceptional playmaking skills back in the day. It might have been from his mother, Nicole De Colo, a 6-foot-0 post with superior passing skills. Or it might have been from one of his older sisters, Sandy or Leila De Colo, both first division players in France before they retired and started families.

“All my family played basketball,” Nando says, and that includes his youngest sister, Jessie.

For as long as he can remember, Nando has spent most of his time in a gym. He grew up watching his dad play, his parents coach, his sisters run the floor and shoot. At age 2, he grabbed a ball and started dribbling. At 5, he joined his first club team.

Bruno taught him the game. Nicole contributed. But guess which De Colo the boy followed most? “When I was young,” says Nando, a 6-foot-5 guard, “I watched my sister, Leila, more than my father.”

Bruno showed Nando how to shoot. Leila and Sandy assisted. Each De Colo offered correction. “Every person in my family tried to explain what I was doing wrong,” he says in a thick French accent. “They would say, ‘Okay, you must be a little more like this.’ Even now, if they see one of my games, they will tell me what I did wrong and say, ‘You must be a little more like this.’”

In Nando’s hometown of Arras (pop. 42,049) in Northern France, the De Colos were the first family of basketball. Kind of like the Ginobili’s were the first family of hoops in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

In South America, Jorge Ginobili once played the point like Bruno De Colo. Jorge also ran a basketball club, raised three sons who played pro ball, and always had a house full of coaches who dropped by to eat and talk hoops. Jorge’s youngest son, Manu, started dribbling between chairs at age 3.

Two kids, a world apart, would grow up in basketball families, wind up in San Antonio, dazzle with creative passing and start drawing comparisons. What are the odds?

It took Nando one preseason game for Stephen Jackson to call him “another Manu Ginobili.” Hyperbole? Most thought so. But then the rookie followed acrobatic assists with a Ginobili-like dagger.

With seconds left against Atlanta, Tony Parker drew up a play, Nando got the ball and, just like Mr. Clutch himself, sank the game-winner. “It was just preseason,” Nando says. “Nothing more.”

Preseason or not, fans recognized what Jackson saw. One reader from France put the question to Ginobili during a Mailbag:

Guillaume Rouquier: “Manu, what do you think of the comparisons between you and Nando De Colo? Are you going to be a kind of teacher to him?”

Ginobili: “I can see we have stuff in common. We always say comparisons are not fun for anyone, but I can see what we have in common. I think when the season develops we’ll be able to talk more and learn more about each other.”

Nando reveres his family. He can tell you how each parent and sibling played the game, how he watched and marveled at their gifts. So which De Colo taught him to pass? He’s not sure.

“My dad was a very good passer,” Nando says. “He was good in transition. Maybe when I saw him play, I picked it up.”

Nando caught the tail end of his father’s career. A more likely explanation is that he learned to pass on the fly, out of necessity, perhaps as a teenager with Cholet Basket in Western France. “When I was young,” he says, “I liked to pass the ball behind my back and between my legs. But some coaches in France didn’t like it. They said, ‘You must do straight passes.’”

Bruno and Nicole’s son didn’t listen. He played the game his way, and when he erred, correction came at home. The De Colos may still correct but more often than not, as the circus passes find their mark, they applaud, two parents beaming proudly across the Atlantic.