The Australian Tsunami

I needed to write something. But what? When something would come to me, I could never get started and would lose interest. So, I threw out the question and the Guru Parvenu, a friend of mine at Golden State of Mind, suggested I give a little insight into the Australians of the NBA, both past and present. The gents from the sunburnt country that were good enough to make it to the show, the biggest, baddest, highest level basketball comp in the world. I thought to myself, I should be able to do that, piece of piss, as we say over here. Challenge accepted!

There have been 15 Australians (wow that seems low, don’t laugh) that have made it. Each one of them is a storied Australian in his hometown, to be shouted beers for a lifetime and be hailed as legends, except Luke Schenscher, because, well, no one remembers him.

This is an entire rosters worth of NBA Australians. Each one of these players was born in Australia and while poring tirelessly over stats and web pages, I noticed that there are a lot of Australian-Golden State Warrior links. More than I remembered.

So, let’s rip into it shall we?

These are my countrymen.

The Starting Five

Point Guard

Shane Heal “The Hammer” – 6’0 and 183 lbs.

Undrafted

3rd Australian in the NBA

Teams – Minnesota 1996-97 and San Antonio 2003-04

Games – 49

The second best nickname of the Aussies belongs to the peroxide blond midget. Given the moniker “The Hammer” because of his somewhat unique shooting style or because he would hammer another nail in the oppositions coffin with a 3pt dagger, I’m not sure. All I know is it fits and he could reach levels of shooting zone unconsciousness that were similar to Reggie v NY or Klay in January. HOT!

The NBA got a glimpse of that too, in just his 9th game in the NBA he went off. Hammer Heal is the proud author of perhaps the greatest single quarter in Aussie NBA history.

His NBA stint was seemingly over before it begun. After playing spot minutes the rest of the way for Minny and despite scoring 11 points on debut for SA, he was never able to replicate that glorious quarter. Drifting quietly back into the basketball wastelands of late 90’s Europe, Russia and Australia he has now found his niche as a successful Coach. Point guard to Coach, who would have thought.

The craziest Australian Olympic story belongs to Shane too. Standing up to and bumping an irate Charles Barkley in Atlanta 1996. I can hear Charles now, something like “You little punk!, I will smack you into next week!” but Shane was ready to go and wanted a piece of Sir Charles! Charles was truly stunned I think.

When it came to standing up to the might of American Basketball, we wanted and needed the feisty Shane in our corner. He set a tone for us back then. Fearless and clearly a little bit loco, he never took a backward step against anyone. He scored 28 points against Dream Team 3 that day and I get a real kick out of listening to Hubie Brown talk about Shane during that game. (Hubie voice) I mean, c’mon now! See, you have to guard this little guy!

Shane Heal only played 49 games in the NBA and should have played many more. He was certainly good enough. If he’d only stuck it out a bit longer. We have to understand, guys like the Hammer are competitors, they want to play and there is a thirst to test themselves, not sit on the bench and get a minute here or a couple of minutes there.

Notable- While watching a pre-game warm up before my Perth Wildcats dismantled an overmatched Sydney Kings, I watched, in geeky teenage awe, as Shane made every single 3 he attempted. From every angle, every spot, The Hammer swished em all and I mean swish, no rim. Making all 5 from 7 different spots behind the arc, he made 35 straight before stopping. He was ready. It was pretty awesome to see live.

Shooting Guard

Andrew Gaze “Gazey”– 6’7 and 205 lbs.

Undrafted

2nd Australian in the NBA

Teams – Washington 1993-94 and San Antonio 1998-99

Games – 26

This one will be longer than the rest; I don’t make any apology for it though. No one deserves it more than the famous No 10.

Andrew Gaze, simply put, is our greatest ever player.

What’s sad is, you guys, except for some old timers, have probably never heard of him.

Gazey or Drew or Drewy, was the Australian Jordan, he was the Australian Oscar Schmidt. He was literally the torch-bearer for Australian Basketball. The records he set in the NBL (our National comp) which are too numerous to go into, WILL NEVER BE BROKEN! I say that with absolute 100% confidence. These are Wilton Norman Chamberlain like numbers, video game stuff, and mythological creature stat lines. (All stats courtesy of World Hoop Stats) Some of the good stuff.

* In 1984 Drew averaged 29.1 points on 57.6% shooting as a mop haired yet greying 19-year-old rookie. If you don’t mind. Needless to say, he was the unanimous selection as Rookie of the Year.

* From 1985 he would begin a reign of hell-fire scoring terror that has never been matched in any professional league around the world (at least I think so). For 15 straight seasons Drew never scored less than 30.4 ppg or shot less than 48.8% from the field.

* Between 1986 and 1995 (aged 21-30) his yearly scoring averages were insane: 36.9, 44.1, 36.9, 34.5, 37.6, 38.8, 33.8, 32.0, 33.4, 33.9 Seriously?

* Andrew won the NBL Most Efficient Player award every year from 1990 to 1997. The award was then discontinued, thus making Gaze the only person to win the award.

* Andrew won the Most Valuable Player award 7 times. Fittingly, the award is now called “The Andrew Gaze MVP Trophy”

* He was a 15 x All-NBL 1st team member

* A 14 Time scoring champion

* A 5 time Olympian (1984,88,92,96,00)

* He has the most field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted and 3-pt field goals made and attempted in NBL history (think about that for a second, WOW)

* His point total of 18,908 is several 1000’s in front of number 2 and will never be surpassed.

After forming an instantaneous and lethal partnership with athletic freak and former NBA player Lanard Copeland, and then Mark Bradtke (more on him later) the Gaze led Melbourne Tigers finally broke through and won 2 championships, in 93 (defeating the Perth Wildcats) and 97. They would also make 2 other finals. (Another member of those teams was Dave Simmons, father of Ben, more to come). Similar to the Michael Jordan media driven theme in the mid to late 80’s, this again proved that a transcendent scorer could actually lead a team to a Championship but of course they could never do it alone.

Andrew Gaze finished his storied 22 year, 612 game NBL career with averages of: 30.9p – 5.1r – 5.8a on a shooting line of .518 – .365 – .860.

He was not what you would call an athlete, but here he is dunking on Dante Exums DAD Cecil. BOOM! Take that Cecil! He was a textbook shooter with unlimited range. Having your old man as Coach (the just recently inducted Basketball Hall of Famer Lindsay Gaze) certainly gave him license to shoot whenever and from wherever he liked. You still got to make em though, right?

Strangely, his legend never really got the chance to take off in the US. Some here may recall an already grey young gentleman playing for the Seton Hall Pirates in the 1988-89 season. He was 23 but seriously looked 40. Seton Hall, coached by ex-Golden State Warrior coach PJ Carlesimo at the time, went all the way to the championship game that year against Michigan, mainly thanks to the exploits of Andrew and John Morton (who?), before losing on those famous Rumeal Robinson free throws 80-79. Damn you Rumeal!

Surprisingly, Gazey played only 26 mostly unremarkable games in the NBA. This is our greatest ever player and he only managed 26 games. I still can’t believe that.

7 games came in 1993-94 with the then Washington Bullets after signing two 10-day contracts. These games netted a mere 22 total points in 70 minutes. The greatest scorer in Australian history, and second best to Oscar Schmidt in Olympic history, could only manage 7 games with the freaking crappy Bullets in his prime?

This can’t be right?

It encapsulates everything wrong with the NBA in the 80’s and early 90’s, the way foreign players were perceived and used at the time. Andrew wasn’t alone and maybe he just wasn’t good enough but who remembers Drazen Petrovic’s early struggles with Portland, or how Uwe Blab was treated. (I had to get Uwe a mention, what a name!) Andrew, certainly internationally, was Drazen’s equal and peer but timing and opportunity in this game is everything.

On a funny note, highlighting an Australians never give up attitude and desperate need to prove himself worthy, if you’ve read Andrew’s biography titled “The Andrew Gaze Story”, and I seriously doubt that you have, you’d know he was more famous as a then 28-year-old, for breaking the Bullets weights record for leg presses and leg squats, besting former Golden State Warrior Tom Gugliotta. Not being able to walk for several days, he was cut shortly thereafter, or so the legend goes. Trying too hard to impress, not backing down when being egged on? That sums us up perfectly…

Andrew was given another NBA life line when the San Antonio Spurs came calling in 1999. As an aging 33-year-old, with now luminescent white ghost hair and a zimmer frame to get on court, he signed as a free agent, played a total of 19 games and scored 21 points in 58 total minutes. Averaging a career low 1.1 points with Tim Duncan and David Robinson dominating, he was sadly let go before the playoffs started and before really getting a chance, a fact Gregg Popovich has since reiterated. One of the reasons I rate the Spurs right up there though, is how they treat people, all people. Despite not being on the playoff roster for the franchise’s first championship, the Spurs were gracious enough to send Andrew a Championship ring for his (training?) efforts with the team.

Personally, and I may be wrong, but in some small way I think this was an admission by Pop that despite Andrew’s greatness, Pop couldn’t assimilate him quickly enough or just didn’t know how to use him properly. I would love to see prime Andrew Gaze spotting up now to TD with kick outs from Manu and Tony. It would be lethal. I truly believe that.

If not for clutch Rumeal, Andrew would be the only person in the world with an NCAA championship, an NBA Championship and NBL Championship. Despite never getting a foothold in America and making it in the NBA, Andrew is one of FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players and has been enshrined in the Australia Sporting Hall of Fame.

It won’t be long before he is in enshrined in Springfield too. I have no doubt.

Small Forward

Joe Ingles “Joey” – 6’8 and 216 lbs.

Undrafted

15th Australian in the NBA

Teams – Utah Jazz 2014-15

Games – 79*

Joey Joe Joe (yes, I am a Simpsons fan) finally made it into the Association last year and acquitted himself surprisingly well. After several failed NBA attempts, including latching on with the Golden State Warriors summer league outfit of 2009, he was rumoured to have attracted the attention of the Atlanta Hawks and others this past pre-season. Playing well in a number of pre-season games with the Los Angeles Clippers, he impressed and it looked likely he would make the team. He was ultimately the last one cut. See, Doc doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The Jazz, clearly wanting a mentor, stable influence, friend and guidance counsellor for their latest investment, Dante, signed him up immediately after being ‘clipped’ by the Clips. He turned Coach Snyder and his new teammates into quick believers and started 32 games last year for the Utah Jazz after making their final roster. It would not be out of line to suggest that he outplayed fellow Aussie and 5th overall pick Dante “Drewy dunked on my Dad” Exum.

One of the best NBA writers currently going around is Zach Lowe and little Joey made enough of an impression to be named on the bench in his annual Luke Walton All Stars team this year. He’s unspectacular but that’s a neat little nod for the unheralded glue guy.

His stats aren’t overwhelming, to be honest they are underwhelming at first glance, but there are better things to come from Joe in the NBA. After starring in the NBL in the mid 2000’s and winning Rookie of the Year, he has travelled the world, bouncing around various Euro outfits, including the Maccabi Tel Aviv champions last year coached by Blatt. He seems to have found a home in the NBA with the Jazz. The confidence gained from competing at the highest level, getting through the year unscathed and with an actual preseason with the team to come, rather than with the Clippers, like last year, it should see him garner a larger role and more responsibility.

Don’t be surprised, with his vision, handle, selfless nature, passing ability and court awareness (I love that pass at 0.30) if Joey plays a fair bit of point guard in a “BIG BOY BALL” line-up along with the returning Burks, Hayward, Favours and Gobert. You never know, it could get some burn especially now that X is done for the year. He’s a poor man’s Manu.

Joey recently inked a two year multimillion dollar deal to stay with the Utah Jazz.

Power Forward

Chris Anstey “Ant” – 7’0 and 253 lbs

1st Rd Pick 18 1997

4th Australian in the NBA

Teams – Dallas 1997-99 and Chicago 1999-00

Games – 155

Chris was a little bit ahead of his time and the one true surprise of the bunch. ‘The Ant’ would fit in today’s NBA the same way Dirk still does, the way Ryan Anderson has and the way Kristaps Porzingas will in time. He wasn’t a banger or a post-up savant. He was an in your face shooter.

Chris was a giraffe, a gangly stretch 4 before we knew what they were and before they were fashionable. A 7’0 footer with legit 3-pt range who wasn’t afraid to take them either. Aside from Big Luc (Longley), Anstey was probably the second best player (statistically), in the NBA that we’d produced up to that time. Kind of sad, I know, but you got to start somewhere.

Drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and playing under Golden State Warrior great Don Nelson, who took over mid-season, Chris showed as a rookie what he could do on one highlight filled night in 1998. Let loose by Nellie, he torched Boston for a career high 26 points on 11-15 shooting. Now, if you had seen Chris play just 3-4 years earlier in the NBL as a 19 year old (he only started playing when he was 17) the thought of him even playing 1 game in the NBA was truly laughable much less scoring 26 points.

Under the tutelage of Gazey, Copeland and Bradtke at the Melbourne Tigers and later the great Brian Goorjian, he turned himself into a player. While only playing 155 games with averages of 5.2p and 3.4r don’t jump out at you, he should be proud of his career. He was going to be a tennis player. As with Shane Heal, Chris wanted to play more and decided, after a decent and improving season with the Floyd era Bulls, that the NBA was not for him and he would ply his wears overseas in Russia, winning a title and MVP and back in the NBL where he became a 2 time MVP and Champion.

Center

Andrew Bogut “AB” “Big Drew” “Boges” – 7’0 and 245 lbs.

1st Rd Pick 1 2005

6th Australian in the NBA

Teams – Milwaukee 2005-12 and Golden State 2012-15

Games – 574*

The starting center for the Golden State Warriors, NBA champion and a bit of a legend. That’s Andrew Bogut. I’m not sure what more I can add that you don’t already know. Hell, you guys probably know more about him than I do nowadays.

My first memories of Boges were hearing about this young dude, a 6’10 behemoth at the time, that was playing juniors for the Australian Emus U19 team and absolutely dominating the world competition in 2003. I remember feeling giddy.

It was Australia’s 1st title in international competition and we were supremely led by the next big thing, the unanimous MVP, Andrew Bogut. Andrew averaged 26.3 points and 17.0 rebounds for the tournament. This was a name I needed to remember and follow.

One thing about Junior Boges that most may not know is, he could do it all, even canning 3’s with ease regularly. We’ve all been talking about the Splash Familia lately (Curry, Nash, Thompson, Kerr) and the drooling prospect of after training 3 point contests but Boges would have given them a run for their money. Damn it Steve Kerr, you charismatic bastard! (I love that!), you’re holding Andrew back. Nah, you’re right, I’m crazy.

Part of me really wishes Andrew got a fair shake in 2010 with Milwaukee, he was becoming a dominant force and a worthy number 1 pick. It can’t be changed now. Individually, his 69 game campaign that year in 2009-10 stands as probably the finest season by any Australian in the NBA up to now.

In Aussie NBA terms, Andrew is the clubhouse leader in nearly every stat and in nearly every way. He is our gold standard, the standard by which those to come will be compared. We all love him, as I’m sure all of you do.

Stay tuned for the ahhh, much shorter, Part 2 to come. Luc Longley, David Anderson, Delly, Exum and Patty all get a spot in the sun as do a couple of other noteworthy dudes.

* Current total. Likely to be added to in the future

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