The NBA has become a truly international sport. Last season there were 75 non-US players on NBA rosters, many of them amongst the league’s elite: Yao, Dirk, Nash, Ginobili and Parker to name a few. When you talk about the Australian contingent most people probably think of Andrew Bogut, and maybe hold vague memories of Luc Longley shooting baby hooks with the Bulls back in the nineties. Admittedly, Aussie players have yet to crack the level of super-stardom that Dirk and Yao have, but with a crew of young guns in US college ready to make an assault at the NBA in coming years (Patty Mills anyone?), it’s bound to happen. What better time than January 26th, Australia Day – the national day commemorating the founding of this sun-bleached country – to honor the best Aussies to have made the NBA journey, as well as some of the most loved non-Aussies who we often call our own. And who better to honor them than two of the best home-grown Aussie NBA blogs in the world – The Sport Count and yours truly.

1. Andrew Bogut

7’0″, 245lbs, born in Melbourne, Australia.
NBA averages: 11.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists
NBL averages: N/A

Before Andrew Bogut came on the scene there were essentially two types of Aussies that made it to the NBA: 1) Really tall guys (Longley, Bradtke, Anstey) who were good at being tall, and 2) Great outside shooters (Heal, Gaze) who were good at shooting threes. Either way they were pretty limited roles that didn’t lend themselves to a lot of NBA court time unless you were lucky enough to be on a team with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Aussies in the NBA were essentially a novelty, a foreign experiment. That was until Andrew Bogut came on to the scene. After catching the eye of many scouts in college as a big man with a soft touch and great smarts, Bogut rode the wave of hype all the way to a #1 selection in the 2005 NBA Draft. An Australian, the number 1 pick in the NBA Draft!! I’ll never forget that day. It was the day Australian basketball was stamped on the map.

There is no question that Bogut is the most skilled and most capable Australian player to ever step onto an NBA floor. Proof of that is the Bucks efforts to build their franchise around him and pay him a lot of money, and it’s not surprising – there simply aren’t that many talented, well-rounded seven footers going around the league. Bogut has a chance to be one of the top 5 NBA centers for the next decade – that’s not Aussie bias, that is the likely outcome. Everything else I want to say about Bogey was probably summed up when I anointed him and Carlton Draught 2008 Beer of the Year Winners. Apart from his obvious on-court talents, he’s earned the love and respect of all Aussies because he’s a very grounded character, he’s keeping it real amidst the glitz and glamor of NBA stardom, and every now and then he makes us laugh.

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Just don’t tell him he’s following in Luc Longley’s footsteps: “I’ve had a better collegiate career than anyone else from Australia that came over here. I’m not as slow as Luc Longley, I’m more athletic, I can shoot better, I’m more competitive. So I think it’s not even fair to bring that name up.” Sorry Drew, we’ll never bring that up again.

Signature Move: The up-and-under left-handed hook shot, made so impressive by the fact he’s actually right-handed.
What’s he famous for?: Becoming the first ever Aussie to go #1 in the NBA draft, and also telling the US media that “NBA players get caught up in the hype and do video clips with rappers and all that crap”.
Would he defeat Russell Crowe in a fight?: This would be a pretty even match up – Bogut’s immense size versus Russell Crowe’s natural fighting instincts. But I’d have to go with Russell. That’s not a knock on Bogut’s toughness, just a reflection of that fact that Russell Crowe is really really good at fighting. Here’s the proof.

2. Luc Longley

After an impressive college career at New Mexico (he averaged 19.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his senior year), Longley was taken by the Timberwolves with the 7th pick in the 1991 draft (ahead of All-Stars Terrell Brandon, Dale Davis and Chris Gatling)… read the rest at The Sport Count.

3. Andrew Gaze

6’7″, 205lbs, born in Melbourne, Australia.
NBA averages: 1.7 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists
NBL averages: 31.2 points, 5.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals

Andrew Gaze is the greatest basketballer in the history of Australia’s National Basketball League, and will be for all eternity. Why? Because if Australia ever produces a player this good again, he will not spend 20 years playing in the NBL. To put it simply, Andrew Gaze is the Michael Jordan of the NBL. Just check his career achievements:

  • 2 time NBL Champion with the Melbourne Tigers in 1993 and 1997
  • 7 time Most Valuable Player (91, 92, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98)
  • Won the NBL’s Most Efficient Player Award 8-straight years from 1990-1997
  • NBL Leading Scorer 14 times (including 11-straight years from 1991-2001)
  • All time NBL leading points scorer (18,908 points)
  • A season average of 37.6 ppg back in 1990, only to be topped the following season with 38.8 pppg
  • In 1995 he averaged 31.1 points, 8.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds

With such a dominant NBL career, it was only natural that Gaze tried his luck in the NBA. After taking Seton Hall to the 1989 NCAA Finals and ultimately losing to Michigan (in overtime), Gaze tried out with the Sonics but was not offered a contract. Instead 6-10 center-forward Scott Meents got the final roster spot, and what a fucking tremendous career Meents went on to have. Anyway, Gaze’s real NBA career started in 1994 when he played seven games for the Washington Bullets. In his first game, Gaze and Tom Gugliotta combined for 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 steals as the Wizards went on to upset the marginally better Denver Nuggets. The Wizards didn’t win another game with Gaze in the lineup, despite Gaze’s NBA career-high 6 point effort against the Warriors (who put up 123 points as was customary around that time). The real highlight of Gaze’s NBA career came later, during a stint he had with the San Antonio Spurs in the 1998-1999 season. Gaze played 19 games during the second half of that season and managed to score 21 points – in total. Despite being left off the Spurs playoff roster, Gaze was given a 1999 Championship Ring, which is probably second on the All-Time Undeserved Ring Recipients list behind Darko Milicic in 2004.

Why did Gaze never really thrive in the big league? The answer is probably two fold. Firstly, he was an unathletic 6-7 guard in the NBA facing opponents who were bigger and quicker than he was – he simply didn’t have the edge that he enjoyed in the NBL, where Gaze was usually an oversized small forward. Imagine if Dirk Nowitzki was shrunk down to 6-7 – would he even be able to survive in the NBA? Secondly, and more importantly, Gaze was the face of Australian basketball. He was the game’s most famous and most popular figure, his dad was one of the game’s icons and greatest coaches, and he’d formed relationships with players for over a decade that probably meant more to Andrew than chasing fame and fortune in America. Failing to make a name in the NBA never threatened Gaze’s Australian basketball legacy. It only resulted in more Aussies being able to watch him week-in-week-out at Melbourne Park, the Glass House and all around the country. And that made him the greatest there was, and ever will be, in the history of the National Basketball League.

Signature Move: The layup. As factually stated in Wikipedia, “even though he could dunk, he chose not to”. And here’s “outrageous” proof he could.
What’s he famous for?: Getting an NBA ring for doing essentially nothing
Would he defeat Russell Crowe in a fight?: No way, but can you imagine someone actually wanting to fight Andrew Gaze? Not even Russell Crowe would want to harm that smiling face.

4. Shane Heal

A top-flight local performer, the undersized Heal never gained a foothold in the NBA. Picked up by the international scouting gurus of Minnesota in the autumn of 1996, the three-point specialist faced extremely limited minutes… read the rest at The Sport Count.

5. Chris Anstey

7’0″, 249lbs, born in Melbourne, Australia.
NBA averages: 5.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists
NBL averages: 15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds,1.7 assists, 1.5 blocks

Chris Anstey began his career as a nineteen year old playing for the Melbourne Tigers in 1994. It wasn’t until he moved to the South East Melbourne Magic the following season that his career really took off, being named the NBL’s Most Improved Player in 1996 and helping his team win the Championship that season (against his old team the Tigers, no less). Having established himself as one of Australia’s best big men he elected for the 1997 NBA Draft where he was taken at pick 18 by the Trail Blazers. His draft rights were then traded to the Mavericks for cash plus Kelvin Cato (how amusing!) and Anstey enjoyed reasonable success coming off the Mavericks bench, and actually starting in 8 games. One of those starts turned into Anstey’s  greatest NBA game – a 26 points, 8-rebound domination of the Boston Celtics. On that day Anstey topped all scorers, including his teammate Michael Finley and a young Celtic named Antoine Walker. He impressed the Dallas coaches enough to stay on another season but couldn’t match the giddy heights of that Boston game. At the end of the 1998-1999 season Anstey was traded to the Bulls for a second round draft pick, and before the season even began he was impressing his new teammates and coaches…

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The fact I can find a video of Chris Anstey on YouTube hitting a game-winning shot in an NBA pre-season game back in 1999 is proof that the Internet is a miracle. Anstey enjoyed his best NBA season with the Bulls, averaging a respectable 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds alongside Elton Brand and Ron Artest. He topped the 10+ points mark on thirteen occasions, including four double-doubles, but the Bulls were so bad that season (17-65) that only one of those thirteen games lead to a win. Following that season with the Bulls Anstey came back to Australia to play in the NBL, then spent a couple of season in Russia, then came back to the NBL where he has been dominating ever since. In 2006 Anstey was the leagues MVP, his team won the Championship, and he was also the Finals MVP. In 2008 he did it all again, winning the Championship, regular season and FInals MVP,  as well as the Defensive Player of the Year. After Longley and Bogut there aren’t many Aussies who can claim to have had an “NBA career”, but with 155 games to his name, Anstey certainly deserves to be third on that list.

Signature Move: The three-pointer – no other Australian center has the range Anstey has.
What’s he famous for?: Disappearing from our National League only to return years later to dominate. Oh and flipping the bird.
Would he defeat Russell Crowe in a fight?: Absolutely. Chris Anstey can get real mad, madder than Russell Crowe. Out of all the prospective Russell Crowe matchups, this is the only one I would pay to see.

6. Mark Bradtke

Bradtke was an absolute beast in the low post, with surprisingly quick footwork, and the upper body strength of a wombat (quick nature fact: wombats are grotesquely and disconcertingly muscular)… read the rest at The Sport Count.

7. Lanard Copeland

6’6″, 190lbs, born in Atlanta, Georgia.
NBA averages: 2.7 points, 0.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists
NBL averages: 20.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists

Lanard Copeland is not Australian, but between the years of 1992 and 1999 approximately 82% of every dunk or alley-oop performed in Australia’s NBL was actually performed by Lanard Copeland. He was the guy that brought the essence of the NBA – crazy athleticism, soaring dunks, and black men – to Australia’s National Basketball League. Sure, more kids probably turned up to the games wearing Gaze jerseys, but it was a Lanard Copeland fast-break tomahawk they were all waiting to see. Copeland first tried his luck in the NBA, picked up undrafted by the 76′ers in 1989 where his career highlight was probably an 8 point, 2 rebound, 2 assist performance against the Hersey Hawkins-lead Los Angeles Clippers. Copeland got to play alongside Charles Barkley that season, but it would be the last season he played for the Sixers. He was later signed to a 10-day contract by the Clippers in 1991, but he mainly got garbage time minutes and struggled to make an impression. The following year he came to the NBL and thoroughly dominated – he averaged 28-4-3 in his rookie season and formed a unique bond with Melbourne Tigers teammate Andrew Gaze that would last over a decade.

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Lanard Copeland has also touched me on a personal note. A couple of months ago I was enjoying a drink at one of my usual Friday night Melbourne venues. I was in the bathroom, standing at a urinal, when I looked to my left only to see the hulking figure of Lanard Copeland. At that very instant my phone rang, and it was my housemate (the one obsessed with Ray Allen). “Where are you man?” he asked. In my slightly intoxicated state, I screamed back “I’m in the toilet with Lanard Copeland!!”. I looked over at Lanard and he gave me this wry smile while nodding his head as if to say, “Damn right boy, you in the toilet with Lanard”. I walked out of there in disbelief, my housemate shouting in my ear with inappropriate references to genitalia. I later saw Lanard waltzing around, as if he owned the joint. He probably did. Ten years ago he owned the entire NBL.

Signature Move: The Gaze-to-Copeland alley-oop.
What’s he famous for?: The Gaze-to-Copeland alley-oop.
Would he defeat Russell Crowe in a fight?: No, but he would be brutally effective at throwing down alley-oops on Russell’s head if Andrew Gaze threw them to him.

8. Stephen Jackson

Most basketball fans aren’t aware that Captain Jack has toiled in Australia; indeed, he shared a court with Shane Heal in 1998. A second-round Suns draft pick who was waived before he played a game, Jackson had done time with the La Crosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball Association, before hopping a flight over the Atlantic to spend some time as a Sydney King… read the rest at The Sport Count.

9. Ricky Grace

Ricky ‘Amazing’ Grace was a serious baller, a fluid, spritely point man with deadly passing instincts and the ability to break nearly any defender down off the dribble. Unfortunately, his abilities didn’t translate to the NBA… read the rest at The Sport Count.

10. Luke Schenscher

7’1″, 255lbs, born in Hope Forrest, Australia.
NBA averages: 1.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists
NBL averages: 16.8 points, 11 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

Luke Schenscher played alongside Jarret Jack for Georgia Tech where he made the 2004 NCAA Championship Game (and lost to the Huskies). His NBA career was unfortunately not as successful. Despite not being drafted he found himself on both the Kings and Nuggets pre-season rosters, but ended up playing in the D-League that season for the Fort Worth Flyers. In March 2006 he signed a 10-day contract with the Bulls, becoming the third Aussie along with Longley and Anstey to play for Chicago. It was during this contract he exploded for his career-high 10 points to go with 4 rebounds against the Trailblazers and his former college teammate, Jack. So impressed were the Bulls they offered him another 10-day contract, then signed him for the remainder of the season. Schensher even got some playoff burn against the Heat, but similar to Heal, Gaze and Anstey before him, it was only garbage time minutes. He played a few games for the Trailblazers the next season but didn’t really make an impact. After playing a year in the German League he returned home to Australia to play for Adelaide in the NBL, where he is currently second in the league in rebounding behind Chris Anstey. Who knows, with a couple of solid NBL seasons behind him Luke might again try his luck in the NBA. But if not, he can be safe in the knowledge that no other NBA player with as little as 31-career games has a website named after him. Schenschational.

Signature Move: Setting screens
What’s he famous for?: Looking like Ronald McDonald
Would he defeat Russell Crowe in a fight?: Yes, he would scare the crap out of Russell Crowe. Just look at the guy. He’s a 255 pound red giant.

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