Gaze: Comm Games gold down to Boomers and NZ
BOOMERS legend Andrew Gaze says Australia faces a genuine battle for gold at the Commonwealth Games with New Zealand posing a "significant'' threat to the home nation.
The Boomers and Tall Blacks are expected to meet in the men's basketball gold medal showdown on April 15 on the Gold Coast, but will first cross paths in a pool game in Cairns this Saturday night.
Australia starts its campaign against Canada on Friday night and have been weakened by the late withdrawal of Adelaide star Mitch Creek (Europe) who has been the standout player for the NBL-based Boomers in the past year.
The unavailability of Mitch McCarron (Europe) and Matt Hodgson (knee surgery) has further diluted the Australian squad that dominated the FIBA Asia Cup and World Cup qualifiers with a 10-0 record and a for-and-against of plus-271 points.
The Tall Blacks feature a host of players from the New Zealand Breakers NBL club and have precious combinations and understanding forged over years of playing and training together.
Five-time Olympian Gaze - who is commentating on the Commonwealth Games basketball for the host broadcaster - has run his eye over the squads carefully and says Australia will not have things their own way.
"It's a setback for the Boomers to lose Creek and McCarron. Hodgson getting hurt hasn't helped the cause either so Andrej (Lemanis, Boomers coach) has had to deal with a few things over the past month or so that have been unfortunate,'' Gaze said.
"They are still a very talented team and the Boomers deserve to go in as the favourites.
"Looking at the rosters, New Zealand are going to be very, very hard to beat. They've got a group where a lot of these guys play together on a weekly basis with the Breakers.
"They've got that familiarity within their group and when you bring players into an All-Star type environment, that cohesion and camaraderie are the elements that are a big part of the challenge.
"New Zealand have got a huge advantage in that particular area. They are going to present a challenge that is going to be a significant one. It will be a battle."
Gaze said he would not be surprised to see another nailbiter in the gold medal match in a repeat of the 2006 Commonwealth Games decider when the Boomers edged out a Pero Cameron-inspired Tall Blacks in the final in Melbourne.
"The Boomers got out of jail from memory. With a few minutes to go, in front of a packed stadium at Hisense Arena, a couple of three-balls by Jason Smith got them home and it could be something similar here,'' he said.
Gaze believes the Commonwealth Games present a great opportunity to the Boomers players to perform under pressure and put their names forward for the World Cup in 2019 and Tokyo Olympics when the likes of Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes and Patty Mills will join the full-strength national squad.
"They can work their way into a situation where they can be genuine contenders for those teams,'' the Sydney Kings head coach said.
"There's a bigger picture at stake for the players on top of wanting to do really well and win a gold medal at a really prestigious event.''