GREAT TIMES: Australia’s Andrew Gaze celebrates Australia’s 65-62 victory over Italy in a quarter-final at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
GREAT TIMES: Australia’s Andrew Gaze celebrates Australia’s 65-62 victory over Italy in a quarter-final at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. MICHAEL CONROYAP

Andrew Gaze: Boomers have the bounce to take on Rio

OLYMPIC icon Andrew Gaze believes the Boomers can head to next year's Rio Olympics with a more athletic playing group than any country except basketball super power the USA.

The five-time Olympian and Sydney 2000 Olympics flag-bearer is excited by the quality and depth of the world class athletes Australian coach Andrej Lemanis has been handed in the hope of winning Australia's first men's Olympic basketball medal.

"We've got seven or eight guys with NBA clubs, and who knows, by the time the Olympics arrive we might have 12 guys from NBA clubs in the green and gold," Gaze told APN before the Boomers swept through their Olympic qualifying series against New Zealand's Tall Blacks.

"This is the most credentialled and the most talented squad we've ever had. All bases and depth in all positions are covered.

"In terms of raw athleticism ... forget basketball skills, if you have Ben Simmons and Thon Maker, Dante Exum (Utah) when he is healthy and Bogey (Andrew Bogut) …. I mean our athleticism is staggering."

Gaze admitted he gets itchy feet when he thinks about the additions of Simmons and Sudanese-born Maker - both tipped to be snapped up early in the 2016 NBA draft.

The son of Gaze's former Melbourne Tigers teammate Dave Simmons, Ben has taken the US high school scene by storm and is widely regarded as a potential No.1 draft pick.

Described by US basketball writers as a "phenomenon", Simmons already calls superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant friends, and exchanges texts with former Magic and Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal.

Gaze said he rates Simmons as an "unbelievable prospect".

"He's got size, athleticism and his DNA is superb. Being the son of a very good player who can give him the experience and guidance to help him get his head around being talked about as the NBA's number one draft pick is fortunate - it's a massive thing for a kid to deal with."

At 208cm and 102kg, the teenager from Down Under already has an NBA body and a game to match. His dribbling, passing, shooting and rebounding game are already technically brilliant.

Maker, also 18, is an equally exciting prospect. A 216cm stringbean who grew up in Perth and now attends secondary school in Canada, Maker fled civil war in Uganda with his family to settle in Australia as refugees when he was just five.

"This kid is still at high school but they're already calling him the next Kevin Garnett," said Gaze of Maker, tipped to be drafted as high as No.5.

Gaze knows all about coping with the expectation that comes from being a prodigiously talented teenager. He made his Olympic debut at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 at just 18, in an Australian team that was coached by his father Lindsay.

At the time there were whispers of nepotism which quickly proved laughable as the young Gaze set about rewriting basketball's record books.

Getting a favourite Olympic moment out of someone who went to five of them is harder than defending one of his trademark three-pointers.

"That's kind of like asking me which one of my four kids I love the most," he says with that familiar Gaze grin.

"I guess the first time you do something, that probably sticks out the most.

"It was a childhood dream to go to an Olympics. Looking back now, sharing it with my dad was amazingly special."

Los Angeles in 1984 was the only time Andrew and his father participated in the same Olympics. But it continued the extraordinary sequence that began in 1956 when Lindsay competed at the Games in Melbourne in AFL, which was a demonstration sport that year.

He went on to play in the Australian men's basketball team in 1960, '64 and '68, before taking over as coach for the Games in 1972, '76, '80 and '84.

The last of those was Andrew's first as a player, but he went on to be part of the 1988, '92, '96 and 2000 Games, creating an unbroken run of 12 consecutive Olympics where someone from the Gaze family took part as a player or coach.

Now retired from the game, Andrew remains the highest point scorer in Olympic basketball history, and second only to Brazil's marksman Oscar Schmidt in world championship points.

He is one of only a handful of Australians who own an NBA Championship ring (with the San Antonio Spurs), but you'll never hear him exaggerating his contribution to the achievement.

"Yeah, I have one (ring). But I may go down in the history of the NBA as one of the most irrelevant contributors to a championship team ever," he says with a laugh.

That will never be said about his contribution to Australian basketball.

FACT FILE

Lindsay Gaze, regarded as the father of Australian basketball, will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2015 on September 11 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Gaze will be the first Australian to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame, created in honour of James Naismith, a physical education instructor who founded the game in Springfield in 1891.


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