BOWIE — BOWIE -- In comparing basketball players in Australia, there's Andrew Gaze and everybody else. He's Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird wrapped into one, reaching a cult-like following there that few athletes are ever able to achieve.
"He is the best Australian player," said Jeff Austin, Gaze's agent with Advantage International, "and the most popular."
Just how the best that Australia has to offer fares in the NBA remains to be seen. But that test will come real soon -- probably Friday -- when Gaze, an all-star in Australia the past eight years, plays his first game with the Washington Bullets.
Gaze, who arrived Sunday night, more than likely will sign a 10-day contract with the Bullets tomorrow. How long Gaze will remain with the team is unknown, but the 28-year-old, described by Bullets general manager John Nash as a "world-class shooter," is pleased to be getting the opportunity to play against the best in the world.
"I'm extraordinarily excited," Gaze said after watching the Bullets practice yesterday at Bowie State University. "I was getting ready for our season [in Australia, which begins in April], and this came out of the blue. If someone would have told me that an NBA team would call and give me an opportunity to play for just a short period of time, I would have said, 'What have you been smoking?' "
Gaze likely will replace Ron Anderson, whose second 10-day contract expires after tonight's game against the Phoenix Suns. But it isn't clear how much the 6-foot-5 swingman, who worked out for coach WesUnseld yesterday, will play.
Though Gaze said he expects to play limited minutes, it's unlikely the Bullets would fly the former Seton Hall star halfway around the world to be a bench fixture.
"It's more or less them getting a good look at me just through practice," Gaze said. "I don't think I have to play in a lot of games to figure whether I can establish a role."
"Clearly, in 10 days you're not going to establish a role, and a coach is not going to give you a role that's dominant because you're only there a short period of time," Gaze said. "This is almost like a tryout. Hopefully, I can do something to repay what they're doing for me."
If he can score for the Bullets as he does in Australia, that would be payment enough. In his past three seasons with the Melbourne Tigers, Gaze has averaged 35.7 points, winning the league's Most Valuable Player award in two of the past three seasons. He has played on every Australian national team for which he has been eligible, and in 1988 was the leading scorer in the Olympics (23.8 points).
"The thing that encourages me is having played against a lot of players that have been in the NBA," Gaze said. "Seeing them, and seeing how I contributed against them, I think my skills and capabilities are good enough to have a role in the NBA.
"Whether it's here, or s [there], that's what I'm here to find out."
After averaging 13.6 points in his one season at Seton Hall, helping the Pirates to a 31-7 record and an appearance in the national championship game during the 1988-89 season, Gaze was cut after a tryout with the Seattle SuperSonics. He said that he never gave much thought to trying the NBA again after becoming a huge star in Australia.
"A lot of [European] players don't have the desire to play in the NBA," Gaze said. "They make a lot of money, and have a very, very good lifestyle in these countries.
"In my situation, the money side is irrelevant. I've been able to have a good income over the years where I can say that. I'm at the stage now where the experience is more important than looking at it from the economic situation."