He isn't hard to identify. Not if you can get him talking. He's the one who says, "G'day."
Andrew Gaze must be wondering what all the commotion is about. Friday afternoon at the Kingdome, during the Final Four practice sessions, he was mobbed by autograph seekers, and by reporters who wondered if he went by any special nicknames, like, by chance, "Crocodile?" But it isn't everyday an Australian, born andbred in Melbourne, plays in the Final Four. Or every year. Or any year. Is it, mate? Australia isn't exactly a hotbed of hoops. It is to basketball about what the United States of America is to Australian Rules Football.
When Gaze grew up Down Under, spending his days shooting at baskets, they looked at him like he'd spent too much time out in the bush. All the other kids were out playing real sports, like Aussie football and rugby, and even tennis and cricket. Or they were out bashing crocs over the head.
Gaze's problem was that he started shooting the baskets before he knew better. His father was the general manager of the National Basketball Association of Australia (the NBA of A). Lindsay Gaze was a zealot ahead of his time. Still is. He had young Andrew shooting at hoops by the age of 6. And, as Karl Marx used to say, "Give me a kid before he's 8 and I've got him for life."
So basketball had Andy, for good or for worse.
"The other kids called me a sissy," says Gaze, "if you played basketball they looked at you like you were a girl."
Such wouldn't have been the case, of course, if he had grown up halfway around the world, in, say, the urban playgrounds of New York City, where playing basketball is about as macho as you can get, outside of going to the corner for a pizza after dark.
It isn't hard to appreciate the poetry, then, in the situation Gaze currently finds himself - playing as the starting swingman for the Seton Hall Pirates as they invade the rarified air of the NCAA's Final Four for the first time in school history.
Today against Duke, Gaze will take the floor alongside his new mates, guys like Silk Morton, from The Bronx; and Darryl Walker, also from The Bronx; and Gerald Greene, from Brooklyn; and Ramon Ramos, from Puerto Rico by way of The Bronx.
Gaze is the only one who doesn't talk jive and didn't grow up in the shadow of the Garden.
What he does talk is good basketball. At 6-foot-7, he is Seton Hall's No. 2 scorer (13.6 points per game), No. 2 assist-maker (three per game), No. 3 rebounder (4.6 per game) and No. 1 3-point artist (with 89 for the year).
It was Gaze who scored 16 and 19 points against Indiana and UNLV, respectively, in last week's West Regional to get himself named MVP and get the Pirates here to Seattle.
He's thrilled to be here, and even if the Final Four didn't dominate his boyhood dreams, he says it would have if he'd just known it existed.
But, still, it is presenting him with a slight problem. He promised his Australian NBA club team in Melbourne, the Tigers, that he would return from the States in time for their season; and with the year extending clear into April he's going to have to miss much of the preseason.
He will, however, have an excuse signed by the general manager of the NBA of A, who will be in the stands both today and, he hopes, again Monday night.
Gaze's appearance in the Final Four will cap off one of the more ambitious off-seasons in basketball history. Gaze came to Seton Hall fresh from an appearance with the Autralian National Team in the Seoul Olympics last fall.
Seton Hall had been after Gaze for a couple of years, ever since the Melbourne Tigers came to New Jersey in the 1986 preseason and played the Pirates in an exhibition game. The Tigers lost, but not before Gaze scored 46 points. Seton Hall coach P. J. Carlesimo knew talent when he saw it, even if it didn't come from one of the five boroughs.
The Hall hounded Gaze ever since.
The fact that the NCAA season coincided with the Australian summer - or, the offseason Down Under - convinced the 23-year-old Gaze that he should accept Seton Hall's scholarship this year. When he arrives back in Melbourne this month he'll have two quarters of credit to apply to the physical education degree he's working toward at the Footscray Institute of Technology.
He'll also have some wild stories to tell his mates. About all the strange sights he saw in the States; and how they treat basketball players with the kind of respect normally reserved for crocodiles, or for people named after them.