Australia’s Greatest Basketball Families

The Blicavs Family
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Most basketball people know that Basketball was invented at the International YMCA Training School ( later to become Springfield College ) in Springfield  Massachusetts in 1891 by Canadian born Dr James Naismith.

Naismith was a Christian Chaplain and also a Physical Education instructor at the School and developed the game that could be played indoors in the harsh winter months to help keep the footballers fit during their off season.

The game spread rapidly internationally through the YMCA Missionaries that were based in many countries around the world and then again during and following WW1 by the American troops based in Europe.

Naismith went on to help found the University of Kansas Basketball program and mentored many legendary basketball Coaches such as Phog Allen and  Adolph Rupp.

He died in 1939 aged 79 and lived to see Basketball become an official Olympic sport when it was introduced at the 1936 Berlin Games, what an amazing achievement in ones lifetime. I doubt whether any other individual has invented a sport and then seen it become an official Olympic sport.

It must have given him tremendous pride.

What most people are not aware of is that the first Basketball game played in Australia was in Adelaide on 17 February 1897 between the YMCA and the OBI ( Our Boys Institute ).

The YMCA was very well established in Australia and around the world which most definitely helped in spreading the game quickly.

The YMCA is still very strong in Adelaide and the OBI Building is still there in Wakefield Street, although it is now a boutique hotel.

Many of my personal Basketball mentors played at the OBI.

As such the game then continued to spread very rapidly throughout Australia and the regions and was especially popular in the regions as it required only 5 players per team.

In Adelaide, which became initially the centre for the game in Australia, games were played at the Duncan Building in Franklin St and then following the WW2 at the OBI Building in Wakefield St.

The OBI was the headquarters of Basketball in Adelaide until they merged with the District & Metropolitan Basketball Association when games were moved to Forestville Stadium, the first purpose built Basketball stadium in Australia which was erected in 1953.

The OBI was actually founded by the YMCA and was setup to assist under privileged young boys.

Many of South Australia’s early Olympic basketballers honed their skills at the OBI, including Inga Freidenfelds, Algy Ignatavicius, Peter Sutton, The Dancis brothers, the Heard brothers plus many many more.

1960 Rome Olympic Games Qualifying  – Showing 4 of the 6 South Australians  – Inga Freidenfelds , John Heard , George Dancis , Colin Whitehead ( NSW ) & Alan Dawe

As such South Australia punched well above it’s weight Nationally with the Men winning 14 of the Australian Men’s Championship’s between 1946 and 1984 and finishing second 13 times.

1963 SA State team won the National Championship Title in Devonport , Tasmania  Featuring 7 Olympians  –   John Heard , Les Hody , Michael Ahmatt , Maik Dancis , Malcolm Heard , Alan Dawe & Scott Davie. Also features Olympic Coach Keith Miller and Olympic Manager Frank Angove    

The women’s event was staged between 1955 and 1984 with SA winning 14 and fishing second 11 times.

In those early years South Australia produced many Olympians, way above it’s national population percentage.

For example they had 5 in Melbourne, 6 in Rome, 5 in Tokyo and 4 in Mexico, almost 50% to that stage. 

SA also supplied 5 players to the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila. 

As a result of all of this, basketball has become an extremely popular sport in Australia, much more so than the everyday person realises.

Just ask around amongst your friends, you will very surprised how many have played it at some stage.

Normally, once one child in the family plays, then all of the children play, making the game very much a family affair. Many of the clubs around Australia field 40 to 50 plus junior teams and have both boys and girls teams, with the parents often becoming involved in administration and fund raising.

This has given rise to the creation of some highly successful basketball families that have contributed enormously to the success and development of the game in Australia, so here you can follow the details of some of these families, which are not in any particular order.

The Gaze Family

If you think basketball in Australia, then the name Gaze comes foremost and readily to mind.

We are all familiar with the career and achievements of Andrew Gaze, whose honours seem endless.

Growing up living in a basketball stadium probably helps, as Andrew’s father Lindsay was amongst many things, the inaugural Manager of the 9 court Albert Park Stadium in Melbourne, with the family living in the attached cottage, it was a position he held until his retirement in 2005.

I hope that you got to play or at least visit at Albert Park, it was the Forestville Stadium of Melbourne ( only much bigger ) and the atmosphere was just fantastic, like Forestville it had “ that smell “ generated by the thousands of basketballs being bounced for hours every day, 7 days a week. 

You may not have thought about it, but try and remember back – that rubbery smell that you noticed as soon as you walked in.

Olympian Scott Davie was interviewed by Channel 7  at the launch of the building program for the Clipsal Powerhouse and was asked by 7’s Andrew Kay, what was his greatest memory of Forestville Stadium and he replied – “ The Smell “

Lindsay Gaze OAM

Lindsay & Andrew Gaze

But lets start with Lindsay Gaze OAM,  a legend and Icon of Australian basketball.

Lindsay  was born in Adelaide on 16 August 1936 and then moved to Melbourne with his family in the early 40’s including older brothers Barry and Tony and up until 1958 played Aussie Rules for the VFA Club  Prahran when he decided to concentrate on Basketball.

Together with Barry, he was selected to take part in the Aussie Rules Football exhibition match at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

He had an outstanding career in Basketball and justifiably is a member of the Australian and FIBA Hall of Fame.

Lindsay is married to Margaret and has two children, Janet & Andrew.

He was a natural sportsman and was captain of both his school Tennis and Football teams.

He commenced playing Basketball at a young age through the Church competition, but decided to concentrate on it under the guidance of his Club Coach Ken Watson at Melbourne Church later to become Melbourne Tigers.

Melbourne Church was the powerhouse club of Australian Basketball until the formation of the NBL, producing many Olympians including Lindsay and his son Andrew.

As a player, he was a member of the 1960, 64 & 68 Olympic teams and also the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila , where he was selected as a member of the Second All Star Five.

His Melbourne Church and Victorian team mate and friend Bill Wyatt was selected in the First All Star Five, both exceptional achievements given the quality of the other teams.

He was also a member of the 1970 World Championship team in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia

As a Coach, he was in charge for 104 games including 1972 Munich, 1976 Montreal, 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games, as well as the FIBA World Cup in 1974 Puerto Rica, 1978 Manila, 1982 Colombia and 1994 in Toronto Canada.

That is an outstanding International Record.

Lindsay also coached his beloved Melbourne Tigers ( Church ) in 689 NBL games winning  the 1993 & 1997 NBL Championships and was the NBL Coach of the year in 1989, 97 & 99.

In total he coached the Melbourne Tigers from 1970 – 2005 winning many Victorian and National Club titles prior to the formation of the NBL. 

A well respected Administrator , he was the long serving GM of the Victorian Basketball Association ( from 1958 until his retirement in 2005 ) and served on many committees and Boards including the NBL.

However, despite his amazing list of achievements, his greatest feat is without doubt fathering the greatest Australian player ever, his son Andrew Gaze AM. 

Lindsay has become a very approachable and friendly man and a chat with him is always a very pleasant,  interesting and wonderful experience, his basketball knowledge and experiences, endless.

Andrew Gaze AM

Lindsay & Andrew Gaze

Andrew was born in Melbourne on 24 July 1965, the second child after his older sister Janet and grew up with the Albert Park Stadium as his backyard, so not surprisingly he spent many, many hours playing on one of the 9 courts.

He was a true “gymrat” before we ever heard the phrase and started playing scrimmages with the Melbourne Church seniors players when he was still very young in his early teens

He grew to become 6’7” tall and 200 pounds, but was not terribly athletic, in fact quite flat footed, he was definitely a prisoner of gravity, but his ball skills were exceptional and offensively he just never stopped moving, which made him extremely difficult to guard.

He developed a unique fast break, where he would sprint with the ball down the side of the court and then pull up outside the 3 pt line and shoot, with remarkable accuracy, it became his trademark.

I wouldn’t suggest that young juniors adopt that style, I assure that your coach will not be amused or approve.

If you did not play him close, he would kill you from the 3 pt line, if you over guarded him, he would take you backdoor.

As Australia’s leading Club, the Melbourne Tigers did not initially join the NBL, supposedly because the very conservative Ken Watson and Lindsay feared that it would shift control of basketball in Australia away from it’s Melbourne  base –  they were right and so continued to compete in the South Eastern Conference for several years.

By 1984 however, even these two old foxes had to concede and were for the preservation of their club,, forced to become a part of the National League.

So they joined and 18 year old Andrew played his first of 612 games over 20 seasons, with a total of 18,908 pts at an average of 30.9 pts per game.

He was the rookie of the year in 1984, the first of very many accolades and also competed at his first Olympic games that season in Los Angeles.

In 1987 , Drewey set an NBL record with an average of 44.1 pts per game, including a 60 pt game against Newcastle and 5 x 50 pt games.

His performances and record is quite remarkable and included playing stints with  –

  • 1984 – 2005  –  Melbourne Tigers
  • 1988-1989  –    Seton Hall College USA
  • 1991 – 1992  –  Udine  –  Italy
  • 1994   –   Washington Bullets NBA
  • 1995   –   Apollon Patras  –  Greece
  • 1999   –   San Antonia Spurs NBA

Apart from his NBL heroics, His stint at Seton Hall saw him compete in the NCAA Championship game where they lost agonisingly and narrowly to the Michigan Wolverines 80 -79.

He went on to compete in over 280 games for Australia including 5 Olympic Games –

1984 Los Angeles, 1988 Seoul, 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney where he had the Honour of being the Australian Team Flag Bearer –  who could forget that beaming smile as he entered the Stadium and so proudly waving the flag and leading his team.

He also played in 4 FIBA World Championship Tournaments –

1986 Madrid, 1990 Buenos Aires, 1994 Toronto and 1998 in Athens.

His other awards are considerable  –

  • 1999 NBA Championship  – San Antonio Spurs
  • 2 x NBL Titles  –  1993 / 1997
  • 14 times NBL Scoring Champion
  • 7 times NBL MVP
  • 11 times NBL All Star
  • 2 times NBL All Star game MVP
  • 15 times All NBL First Team
  • 1 time NBL All NBL Second Team
  • 8 times NBL Most Efficient Team
  • 1989 NBL Leader Assists
  • NBL 20th Anniversary Team
  • NBL 25th Anniversary Team
  • NBL 40th Anniversary Team
  • 6 times Gaze Medallist  – Australian International Player of the Year ( named after his Father )
  • FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players
  • Hall of Fame member – Australian Basketball, Sport Australia, FIBA
  • His No 10 Jersey retired by Melbourne Tigers

He is undoubtedly Australian Basketball’s – GOAT   

Andrew has carved out another successful career for himself as both a highly sought after speaker at conferences, dinners and functions and is a very well respected media identity and basketball commentator.

He has also tried his hand at coaching, both locally in Melbourne, giving of his time in helping to develop Junior players for a number of years.

In senior basketball he led the 2015 Tigers in the SEABL competition with his cousin Mark as his assistant and then in 2016 he moved to Sydney to coach the Sydney Kings for 3 seasons with Lanard Copeland as his assistant.  

Andrew is married to Melinda and has four children, Courtney, Phoebe, Annie and Mason.

Tony Gaze

An older  brother to Lindsay, Tony also played for both Melbourne Church and Victoria.

He was the Coach of the both the Frankston Bears in the NBL as well Australian Opals at the 1971 World Championships in Brazil.

Mark Gaze

He is the son of Tony, cousin to Andrew and was an accomplished player, playing NBL for both the  Melbourne Tigers under his uncle Lindsay, as well as under his father for the Frankston Bears, where they together were a part of the 1983 SEABL Championship team, prior to joining the NBL in 1984.

He was an excellent outside shooter and averaged 19.1 pts per game in his NBL career with Frankston.

He would most probably have received many more accolades had he not been somewhat in the shadow of his famous cousin Andrew.

He enjoyed a very successful junior career winning several championships for Victoria and represented Australia at junior level before being a member of the Boomers National team at the  1982 World Championships in Colombia with his uncle Lindsay coaching.

Kate Gaze

Kate Gaze
Kate Gaze

The daughter of Mark, Kate has enjoyed a very successful and long WNBL career winning two Championships.

Prior to that she had a successful US College career with the St Mary’s Gaels, before returning to Australia and the WNBL.

What a remarkable family, 2 members with multiple Olympic appearances, 3 representing Australia as players, 2 coaching National teams and 3 coaching NBL teams.

Lindsay & Andrew between represented Australia 13 times at Olympic Games, surely that must be a World Record for a Father & Son.

The Watson Family

Together with the Gaze family, the Watson’s have had a huge impact on Basketball for Australia, both domestically and Internationally.

Ken Watson

Ken Watson
Ken Watson with wife Betty

Ken was a very stoic, conservative and parochial Victorian, both intelligent and driven, who did not suffer fools, ever.

A true founding father of basketball in Australia.

He carved out a hugely successful career as a player, coach and administrator, his credits are endless.

His association with the sport goes back to the 1930’s, where he started playing for St Lukes North Fitzroy, which was the founding team of what has become the Melbourne Tigers, now a part of the Melbourne Basketball Association.

His entire heart and soul was given endlessly to the club, where he left his imprint on many of the sports most successful players, supported totally by his wife Betty.

Both have been inducted into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame.

It is said the basketball in Victoria and for his club was run and managed from his kitchen table in Arnold Street, Carlton.

He had a very successful playing career, winning the MVP award in the Melbourne competition twice, representing Victoria on numerous occasions in the Australian Basketball Championships in the late 1940’s and early 50’s.

He was also selected in the Australian national team in 1952, but unfortunately a lack of funds prevented the team from participating in the Helsinki Olympic games.

He was secretary of the Victorian  Basketball Association from 1940 through to 1980 and also Secretary of the Australian basketball association in the 50’s.

As a coach, he spent some 30 years in charge of the Melbourne Tigers, coached Victoria on numerous occasions and coached the Australian Olympic team in 1956 and 1968.

Ken Watson

He and Betty gave of themselves tirelessly throughout their lives, much to basketball’s gain.

They had three sons David, Ray and Ian, the latter two representing Australia at the Olympics.

I understand that David was a top level referee for many years.

Ken Watson passed away in 2008 and the age of 89 following a long illness.

Ray Watson 

Ray Watson
Ray Watson in his Victorian uniform

Played for Melbourne Tigers for many years, represented Victoria on numerous occasions at both Junior and Senior level and was selected in the 1968 Mexico Olympic games team playing under his father as coach.

Ian Watson

Ian Watson
 Ian Watson setting a screen for Melbourne Tigers team mate Toli Koltunicwicz

Like his older brother Ray, also represented the Melbourne Tigers for many years and Victoria at both Junior and senior level 

He was selected in the 1972 Munich Olympic games team which was coached by Lindsay Gaze in his first coaching appearance at the Olympics, as well as the 1976 Montreal games also coached by Lindsay.

Regrettably Ian passed away in 1981 at the age of just 32, way too early.

I suspect that had Ian survived longer that he would have gone on to a successful coaching career and become an Icon of basketball in Victoria just like his father. 

The Newley Family

 Arthur “ Lurch “ Newley is somewhat of a legend in South Australian basketball circles, both on and off the court, but the families success extends far beyond Arthur.

The family was introduced to the game by their uncle Claude Sandercock, who was a member of the North Adelaide State League team in the 1950’s alongside the likes of the Harris brothers, Merv and Ross ( Dinks ), Bob Buss, Olympian Alan Hare and state player Basil Sellars.

7 members of the family have represented South Australia at Senior or Junior level and 2 have represented Australia. 

Arthur Newley 

Arthur Newley And Brad Newley
Arthur Newley with son Brad

Arthur was somewhat of a late bloomer and after a sudden growth spurt to 6’5”, was selected in the State U18 team in 1965.

His development was fairly rapid from there where he then went on to a successful senior career and played several seasons for the Senior State team whilst also winning the Milestone Medal in consecutive seasons as the U21 MVP in the State league competition 1967 & 68.

He credits his rapid development to being mentored by the legendary Les Hody, who was also playing for West Torrens at that time.

In the 1967 / 68 season Arthur was Runner Up in the Woollacott Medal for the Best & Fairest player in the State league competition, which he jokingly says was a great effort as he never took a shot from outside the keyway.

His career was interrupted for two years when drafted into the Army in the late 1960’s, spending most of that time in Darwin. During that period he managed to win a title in the “A“ Grade competition.

Following his return to Adelaide he again played for his Club West Torrens and was an important member of their 1974 State League Premiership, under player coach US Import Gary Arbelbide and then a creditable 5th place in the Australian Club Championships in Melbourne that same year.

West Torrens Basketball Players
Back Row – John Skinner ( Manager ) , Mark Lampshire , John Thompson , Gary Arbelbide ( Player Coach ) , Arthur Newley  , Mitch McCardle( Asst Coach )
Front Row – Malcolm Simpson , Chris Skinner , Wayne Chettle , Albert Leslie , Jimmy Parkinson , Malcolm Lewis 
West Torrens   –  1974 South Australian State League Premiers
40 years later , Arthur hasn’t changed a bit

I was very fortunate to have played with Arthur in both the U18 State Team in 1965 as well as in the 1974 West Torrens team.

During the latter stages of his career he was also a part of the Clubs roster during their short stint in the NBL, when they replaced the Glenelg club in the 1980 & 81 seasons.

He was a stalwart of the West Torrens / Forestville Basketball club devoting many hours to the development and success of the club including 10 years as Club President and several years as Treasurer.

Arthur was an ANZ Bank manager and during his time spent in Alice Springs, he was the President of the Alice Springs Basketball Association in 1997 & 98 as well as Vice president of the Northern Territory Association.

A very popular and well liked guy he is widely known admired by the SA Basketball community, doesn’t mind a beer either.

Together with wife Janelle, they have two children, Brad & Mia, both very successful players

Janelle Newley ( Colwell )

Janelle Newley Centre at SA Hall of Fame Dinner

Janelle and Arthur have been married for many more years than either would like to admit and Janelle ever the lady, underplays her own talent and ability as a player.

A native of Townsville in Queensland, with many family members still living there, Janelle had the distinction of representing both Queensland and South Australia at Senior state level, which is an achievement that very few people can lay claim to.

An avid supporter of both Forestville and the Adelaide 36ers, she is a regular attendee with Arthur at 36ers home games.

She has also had the pleasure of witnessing her two children during their decorated careers, both who have spent time in Townsville playing in their respective National Leagues as well as playing State league for West Torrens.

She is a staunch follower of the WNBL.

Brad Newley

Although he was born in Adelaide he spent some years following his father around Australia in his role as an ANZ Bank Manager, living in Alice Springs and then the Sunshine Coast in Queensland .

After moving back to Adelaide, he attended Pasadena High School, playing alongside Australian National teammate and future Utah Jazz NBA star Joe Ingles.

Brad Newley playing against his old schoolmate Joe Ingles and the Utah Jazz

Brad then attended the AIS academy in Canberra, where he came to the attention of National Junior team selectors. 

Although missing out on State Junior selection initially with South Australia ( go figure ), he was finally selected in his second year in U18’s whilst at the AIS and then selected for the Australian U19 team for the 2003 World Championships in Greece, where he scored 16 pts in the Gold Medal Final winning performance against Lithuania.

In Adelaide, Brad played State League for the Forestville Eagles.

At 6’7” tall Brad is an extremely athletic and mobile Shooting Guard / Small Forward, renowned for his devestating fast breaks and very strong drives to the basket.

He was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 2007 with the 54th pick

Career History

2004  –  07  –  Townsville Crocodiles  –  NBL

2005   –   NBL Rookie of the Year

2005   –   NBL Best Sixth Man

2005  –   NBL All Star Game MVP

2007   –  NBA Draft selection by Houston Rockets with pick 54 

2007  –  All –  NBL  Second team

2007  –  08  –  Panionios  –   Greece

2008  –  09  –  Panellinios   –  Greece

2009  –  10  –  Besiktas  –  Turkey

2010  –  12  –  Lietuvos Rytas   –   Lithuania

2011  –   Australian International Player of the Year

2012  –    Valencia  –  Spain

2012  –  16  –  Gran Canaria  –  Canary Islands

2015  –   FIBA Asia Cup Gold Medal

2016  –  2017  –  Sydney Kings – NBL  

2017  –    AEK Athens  –  Greece

2017 –  present – Sydney Kings – NBL

2017  –   All  –  NBL Second team

Career Highlights & Awards

2006  –  Melbourne Commonwealth Games  –  Gold Medal

2007  –  FIBA Oceania Championship

2007  –  NBL All Star Second team

2008  –  Beijing Olympic Games

2008  –  GBL All Star

2010  –  FIBA World Championship

2011  –  FIBA Oceania Championship  –  New Zealand

2011  –  LKL All star

2012  –  London Olympic Games

2014  –  FIBA World Championship –  Spain

2015  –  FIBA Oceania Championship 

2015  –  FIBA ASIA CUP Gold Medal

2017  –  FIBA Asia Championship  –  Lebanon

2018  –  Gold Coast Commonwealth Games  –  Gold Medal

It is very regrettable that during his highly successful and celebrated career, that due to spending so much time playing internationally that he has never been able to suit up for the Adelaide 36ers , much to their fans loss.

Brad is married to Bridget Bowley, who played for Sturt and was a SA State Junior Player as well as playing WNBL for the Adelaide Lightning.

Brad Newley And Briget Newley
Brad Newley with wife Bridget and their daughter

They have two children a girl 6 Betty and a boy 2 Charlie.

Mia Newley (  Murray )

The younger sister to Brad, Mia has carved out quite a distinguished career for herself both in the WNBL and Internationally.

In Adelaide, Mia played State League for the Forestville Eagles.

Career

2006 –  08  –  AIS

2008  –  2011  –  Adelaide Lightning

2011  –  present  –  Townsville Fire

Career Awards & Highlights

2007  –  FIBA World Junior Championships  –  Bratislava, Czech Republic where led was the Leading 3 pt shooter

2009  –  World University Games – Bronze Medal

2011  –  World University Games  –  Bronze Medal

2015  –  WNBL Champions

2015  –  WNBL Grand Final MVP

2016  –  WNBL Champions

At 6’1” tall, Mia plays guard and is very difficult to handle, being both an excellent shooter and a very capable defensive player.

Her 2015 WNBL Grand final MVP performance was all class with 23 pts, 3 of 5 beyond the arc, 7 rebounds and 3 assists 

Mia is married to Max Murray and has a son Sid aged 8 months.

She has resigned with Townsville for the 2020/21 season 

Graham Newley

Arthur’s older brother, Graham played for 2 years at State Junior level including both years in U18 in Hobart 1963 and Perth 1964.

He also played several seasons of State League basketball with West Torrens

Greg Newley

Arthurs younger brother Greg also played 2 years at State Junior level including U16 in 1965 in Adelaide and U18 in 1967 in Melbourne.

He also played several seasons of State League basketball with North Adelaide & West Torrens. 

A 4th brother, the youngest, John also played some State league games for North Adelaide and their only sister Pauline played junior basketball for North Adelaide 

It’s not hard to guess what the family talked about over dinner each night.

The Heard Brothers

There were four brothers in the Heard Family and two of them, Malcolm & his younger brother John were very instrumental in the development of the sport in South Australia and the founding of the United Church Basketball Club in 1960 ( Now Sturt ).

Rex Holmes was the inaugural coach of the Club and enjoyed a close relationship with the Heard Family,  actually lived with them for a while and worked at IBM with John.

Rex was a real student of the game in both the strategy and the fundamentals of the game, I can vividly remember him saying on many occasions – “ gentlemen when we’ve got the ball, they can’t score “

Rex had a profound influence on a number of the young men involved with the Club including myself, and was also the Coach of their initial Junior teams and several State Teams including U16, U18 and the Seniors.

Rex was really the only coach that I had up to the age of 18.

He was also a selector for the 1964 Olympic team. 

The brothers had the great distinction of playing together in the 1960 Rome Olympics Qualifying Tournament as well as the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila.

Malcolm Heard And John Heard
Malcolm & John Heard in their Australian Olympic Blazers in 1960

John went on the Captain the team in the 1964 Toyo Olympics where Australia finished a very creditable 9th .

I had the great pleasure to have played with them both, in fact my first State league game in 1965 at age 16 for United Church ( The God Squad as Jeff Coulls always called them ), was the last game that John played for the club,  before moving to Canberra in his position with IBM.

They were both such very impressive players and men, Malcolm with his cool & calm demeanor and leadership, with a jump shot from behind the top of his head that was impossible to block and John with his very sound fundamentals and silky skills that set him apart from other players.

Their ability came from many hours spent on the training court refining those skills. On reflection they were light years ahead of the rest of us in dedication and application, amateurs who were really professionals in their approach and who were both such wonderful role models. Success followed them.

From memory the family always lived in the Southern suburbs of Adelaide around the Colonel Light Gardens area and had an association with Colonel Light Gardens Methodist.

I can’t recall that the other two brothers played at a high level, but one older brother Lance, who was also a big man, was an accomplished referee at State League Level.

Both Malcolm & John helped contribute further to the sport by also refereeing for many years following their playing days

Malcolm Heard

Malcolm ( Mal ) was born on 16 June 1935 and was an accomplished sportsman at a variety of sports. He was born with a club foot which required a number of surgeries and left him with his right foot a couple of sizes shorter than his left. I seem to recall that he also suffered from polio as a child. That certainly did not deter him with his wide array of sporting accomplishments.

Malcolm Heard
Malcolm Heard

Apart from Basketball, he also became an accomplished Aussie Rules  and Soccer player and represented South Australia in in both Junior Tennis and Lacrosse.

Like so many other South Australians he came to basketball through the Church competition which was  played in Winter on outside courts, now that was a challenge, not only with the cold and the rain, but when shooting from outside the keyway, you had to allow for the wind, not to mention dribbling the ball through the puddles. That all required special skills and determination.

That’s probably one of the reasons that SA players were renowned as good shooters.

Mal grew to become 6’5” which was very tall in those days and was very much influenced by 1956 Olympian Peter Sutton, who enticed him to join him in the OBI team ( Our Boys Institute – part of the YMCA ) which played in the State League, coached  the legendary Vern Thomas.

The OBI with it’s basketball court upstairs on the second level was the centre of basketball in SA.

Mal won the Most Improved player award for the League in 1954 and was a member of their 1956 Premiership team.

His team in the Church league won 7 premierships in a row, Mal became very accustomed to winning.

Malcolm Heard

He was selected in his first Senior State team in 1955 and continued to enjoy selection through to 1967, winning several Australian Championship titles, except in 1965 – 66 when he was awarded an engineering scholarship to study in England. He narrowly missed selection for the 1956 Olympic team, but was included in the Second team.

He won the Woollacott Medal in 1964 & 65 as the MVP of the SA State League.

Malcolm Heard Woollacott Medal Winner
Malcolm Heard receiving one of his two Woollacott Medals

He was a foundation member of the United Church Club in 1960, under coach Rex Holmes, as Forestville Stadium became the centre of Basketball in Adelaide and lured all of the great players across from the OBI, including the European players from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Hungary.

The American Mormon Missionaries also had a profound influence in those early years.

Malcolm also served as the player coach for United Church when they won their inaugural Summer Premiership in 1969/70, and was President of Sturt for several years.

He did a Dame Nellie Melba and came out of retirement on several occasions when the club needed him, playing his last season in 1975 at the age of 40, he could have played longer.

One reason for his longevity was that he would only play basketball in the main Winter season, believing that the body needed some time off to recuperate, although he would have played tennis during the summer months. 

His wife Jo also played basketball for OBI and son Steven was a State Junior and State League Player at Sturt, with daughter Alison also playing for Sturt.

Malcolm Heard receiving the Olympic Torch from brother John Heard at the 2000 Sydney Olympics Torch relay

Malcolm Heard passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in 2011 at the age of 75, he was a true gentleman  and a  wonderful and inspirational man and is very sadly missed.

Like so many other young players in Adelaide called Malcolm, I was called Mal because of Mal Heard.

John Heard

John was born in Adelaide on 11 February 1939 and commenced playing Division One for OBI in 1956 at age 17.

He formed a relationship with Elmer Ripley who coached the Harlem Globetrotters on their inaugural tour of Australia, communicated frequently with him by letter and was very influenced by him. Elmer would send lot’s of Basketball literature and equipment to John, which was not available in Australia at that time. Remember that Basketball was very much a minor sport at that time.

John was a very willing recipient, soaking up every piece of information he received.

Like most of the young players in Adelaide, he commenced playing in the church competition with brother Malcolm, and shone from an early age representing his state three times in the U18 division, being made captain in 1956. He was to go on and captain most teams that he played for.

He was also like Mal, heavily influenced by Peter Sutton and Vern Thomas.  

John was way ahead of his time in his dedication and application to his sport. He was fundamentally very sound with silky smooth moves on the court, as well as being tenacious in defence.

He demanded much from his team mates urging them to adopt the highest standards of application and effort, just like himself and this at times made him unpopular, but still very much admired.

He travelled quite frequently in his job and despite missing several games for United Church each season, still managed to finish runner up in the Woollacott Medal on 3 occasions. 

He represented SA every year from 1957 until 1965 when he moved to Canberra, winning six Australian Championships and was Captain of the 1963 & 64 Championship teams.

John Heard
John Heard shooting against NSW

Whilst in Canberra, he played for the ACT in the South East Conference and represented them in the 1967 & 68 Australian Championships as Captain.

I remember in 1966 whilst on a United Church visit to Canberra being fortunate enough to catch the ACT  V’s Melbourne East Demons ( later to become Nunawading Spectres ) in a South East Conference game.

The ACT were down by around 20 pts at half time and then John staged a single handed come back for the ACT to win the game. His second half performance was magnificent, unstoppable, despite all of the Demons efforts and double teaming.

No mean feat when the Demons had players such as Pat Dinan, Ken Cole and Russell Simon.

He represented Australia with distinction as a part of the 1960 Olympic team along with brother Mal and also was selected in the 1964 Olympic team as Captain, where the team performed above expectations and finished a very creditable 9th. His international career  also included the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila again with Malcolm.

John Heard

The USA team in Tokyo included great names such as Bill Bradley, Larry Brown, Joe Caldwell, Mel Counts, Walt Hazzard and Lucious Jackson. It’s my understanding that another member of that team Jeff Mullins, who enjoyed a 12 year NBA career, tried very hard to get John to come to the USA as he believed that he would be a successful NBA player.

Following the 1968 season, John continued to play at club level and moved into coaching where he coached  for both the ACT & NSW at Junior & Senior level.

He moved to Sydney with IBM in 1971 where he was the First Division player coach for Epping YMCA.

He was inducted into the Basketball Australia hall of Fame in 2013 and left a very large footprint on the game in this country.

He lives in retirement in Adelaide with wife Cynthia  

The Dancis Brothers  

Juris ( George ) born 28 November Riga, Latvia

Mikelis ( Maik ) born 10 September 1939, Riga, Latvia

They hold a unique record in Australian Basketball, being the only set of brothers to have each been selected in 2 Olympic teams.  

Anyone who knows anything about basketball in South Australia is very familiar with the name Dancis.

They were Basketball giants, not only in their physical stature, but also in their contribution to the game.

Like most Latvian people, the wars years were extremely difficult as they endured occupation by the Russians, then the Germans, before Russia invaded once again in late 1944.

Maik Dancis And George Dancis
George & Maik Dancis played for ALS in Adelaide – Adelaide Latvian Society

Again like many others in Lativia, the Dancis family fled to Germany as they feared Russian persecution and were placed in a refugee camp of about 3,000 people in Wurzburg at the conclusion of the war in 1945, which is where George was introduced to basketball.

Again life was very difficult as they waited for clearance to emigrate.

In 1949, George who was now of working age, migrated to Australia alone at just 17, while the rest of the family were delayed  as the father had some health issues.

Later that year however his mother and younger brother Maik boarded a ship in Italy and sailed to Australia.

Unfortunately the father passed away from a heart attack shortly after receiving permission to travel.

With George in Melbourne and the mother and Maik in Bathurst, they were finally reunited when they all moved to Adelaide in 1951 to join with many other Latvians who had also migrated there.

The Latvian players were very natural basketballers, big bodied with good fundamental skills and good shooters.

They were a very formidable and daunting group to play against. They were big and strong and played very agressively.

They all also spoke only Latvian during their games and would smile at you whilst saying something that you had no idea about.

They also would smile at the referee whilst swearing at them in Latvian, with no chance of being reprimanded

George Dancis

George enjoyed a distinguished basketball career, representing his adopted country at 2 Olympic games, 1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome and was elected to the Australia Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

George was not just a giant of a man by the standards of those days, standing at 6’6” tall, but he was also exceedingly strong and fit, working as a building contractor and concreter. It was claimed that he would hold up a bag of cement in one hand and tear the top off the bag with the other, now that’s a good party trick, try it sometime.

He was also a very determined competitor who used all of considerable physical assets to his advantage, a tenacious rebounder and renowned for setting strong physical screens.

Shortly after arriving in South Australia, he started playing for the Adelaide YMCA and the OBI Club.

The following year the Latvians started their own basketball club which George joined, ALS ( Adelaide Latvian Society ).

Other Baltic migrants from Lithuania and Estonia also formed clubs, but along with team mates Inga Freidenfelds, Tom Tiliks and Eddy Ceplitis their battles against the Hungarian Budapest Club with the Hody Brothers, Andre Eiler and Yanchi Hoyk were legendary, almost as much off the court between competing spectators, as on the court.

This rivalry helped produce several Olympians.

Their parties were the stuff of legends and not for the faint hearted as many naïve young Aussies discovered.

The ALS team, which later became ASK ( Adelaide Sports Klub ), won the unofficial Australian Club Championship in 1959 & 60. 

George became an automatic selection for the SA State team from 1952 and was a part of several National Championship winning teams including the 1953 event which was held in the newly built Forestville stadium, following which he was selected in the Australian team that competed against the visiting Harlem Globetrotters as well as the US Airforce team.

George Dancis
George Dancis playing for South Australia

Following the 1955 Championships, he was selected in the Australian team that was to compete as host nation in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games. Due to a lack of funding the team and with the team spread across 3 states, they were  predominantly coached by correspondence with the coach Ken Watson based in Melbourne.

In order to play for Australia, George needed to get quickly naturalised with the Lord Mayor assisting in getting him to the head of the queue.

The lack of preparation heavily hindered the Aussies, who were for the first time competing against the World’s best, the USA team featured some serious stars including future Boston Celtics and NBA Hall of Famers, Bill Russell and KC Jones.

George performed admirably, leading the whole competition with 108 rebounds ahead of Bill Russell with 103, now that is an achievement not widely known by Australian basketball fans.

Looking to improve their skills the SA team in 1955 drove to Melbourne several times to play against Victoria, leaving straight after work on Friday, playing the game on Saturday and then returning in time to be back at work on Monday, a dedication and effort that I wonder whether you would see today.

George again played well in Rome in 1960, but as with the rest of the team struggled with the European referees interpretation and constantly found himself in early foul trouble.

Regrettably, the team failed to make it past the qualification round.

George continued playing for his Latvian team in Adelaide alongside younger brother Maik, winning several championships along the way.

I vividly remember in one local Grand Final, George had the ball in the backcourt and was being pressed by a very determined 5’8” Bryan Hennig from Budapest. George held the ball high up above his head in one outstretched hand and Hennig despite all of his efforts jumping up and down, could not even get close to reaching the ball, much to the great amusement of the Latvian fans. 

He is still very mentally alert at age 88 and lives in his retirement in Adelaide whilst regularly entertaining a constant stream of visitors and well wishers. 

Maik Dancis

Whilst most basketball people called him Mike, I am assured that his Latvian family and friends referred to him as Maik.

Maik Dancis

Like his older brother George, he also represented Australia at 2 Olympic games ( still the only brothers to achieve that distinction ), 1964 in Tokyo and 1968 in Mexico City. He also played in the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila.

Maik Dancis
Maik Dancis contesting the jumpball ay 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Maik was 6’7” tall, slightly taller than George and was really a better player, especially as a shooter.

He was not terribly athletic, but utilised all of his physical assets to their maximum potential.

He was quite a character on the court and would do his utmost to upset and distract his opponents at every opportunity and to very good effect, over exaggerating being fouled and flailing his long arms around, often accidentally on purpose hitting you in the head, from which he derived great pleasure and enjoyment.

But make no mistake, he could really play and played some very big games when most needed.

I remember seeing him play against the visiting Oregon State University team that featured 3 future NBA players, where Maik notched up a cool 24 points, hitting several tough shots from the top of the keyway.

Maik Dancis
Maik Dancis playing against the USA

He wasn’t backward in giving you an intentional whack either, always accidental of course.

After arriving in Adelaide in 1951, Maik started playing basketball with George for the ALS club at the age of 13.

With George’s guidance he was selected in the state U18 side in 1956, that won the National Championship under captain John Heard.

He also that year went on to represent the ALS senior team alongside George and went on to win 7 State Champion titles, several alongside George.

He was first selected in the State Senior team for the 1958 carnival in Hobart and continued to represent SA until 1972, winning 5 National titles.

Playing alongside George, they presented a difficult task for opposition teams to match up on and handle.

He continued to play for ASK until his retirement in 1972 at the age of 33, but became an integral part of the Masters Tournaments where he continued to play into his late 70’s.

The Dancis brothers left a huge footprint on Basketball in Australia and there is no doubt that Maik will be elected into the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame,to join brother George, where many think that he should already be.

Regrettably Maik Dancis passed away earlier this year on 29 January 2020 at the age of 80.

The Nagy Family

This family are quite legendary in South Australia, having been dominant in Basketball throughout the 60’s and early 70’s.

The family is originally from Hungary and like most of their countrymen, suffered at the hands of the German’s during the WW2 invasion and then the Russinas following the War.

The Nagy Family
The Nagy Family in Adelaide taken about 1960

Patriach Akos was a very dedicated, hard working and intelligent man who obtained a Doctorate in Pharmacy and married Magdolna, eventually having 8 children. They enjoyed 66 years of marriage, but were forced to escape from Hungary to Austria following the war because of the Russian occupation, with their then 3 children, Akos Jnr, Csaba, Eors and Akos Snr’s mother.

The Nagy Family Children
The Nagy children in about 1963 , only Eors is missing

They lived in Refugee camps in Austria, where another 4 children were born, Geza, Huba, Szittya and daughter Hajnal ( Magdalena – known as Maggie ).

Akos Snr worked extremely hard in several jobs to provide for his family including utilising his Pharmacy skills in the Camp Clinic.

In 1950 they migrated to Australia ( chosen because it’s education matched his Pharmacy skills ) and settled initially in the Hunter valley where the 8th child Botond was born.

Again Akos worked several jobs in Sydney, visiting his family every second weekend.

They eventually moved to Adelaide in 1956 and quickly became an integral part of the local Hungarian community.

Akos Snr was a founder of both the Budapest Basketball Club ( later to become Norwood ) and the Hungarian Club on Osmond Tce at Norwood.

Magdolna was a Physical education teacher at Vermont Girls Technical High and was also very involved in the Hungarian community teaching and organising Folk Dancing along with many other activities.

But it was Basketball that would give the family a very large profile in Adelaide.

I cannot recall Akos Jnr or Eors playing basketball, but Akos Jnr was a Division one referee.

I got to know the family reasonably well as I attended Unley High School with 4 of them and vividly recall walking home from the school at Netherby with Szittya ( Ziggy )  and Maggie to Malvern where I lived on many afternoons. They would then walk on to Woodhurst Ave Hyde Park, where the family due to it’s size lived in 2 adjoining Villas.

Their home became quite famous, not just for the Half sized basketball court in the backyard, but also because of the parties that were staged there.

Akos Snr passed away in 2006 at the age of 93 and Magdolna in 2019 at the age of 99, so their 8 children should be looking forward to also living to a ripe old age.

But back to Basketball –

I can vividly recall as a young basketball player watching Budapest play at Forestville with their very large following of Hungarian fans chanting loudly throughout each game – Hi Rah Budapest. I didn’t know then what it meant and still don’t, but they chanted those words very loudly and with much emotion , it left a lasting impression with me.

Csaba Nagy

He is a much liked, gentle and respected fellow, but definitely had White Line fever. He was extremely strong and aggressive on the court, much feared and “scary “, a guy that you did not want to upset or mess with.

Csaba Nagy and Geza Nagy
Csaba & Geza Nagy in their Budapest tracksuits about 1965

He was very well built, about 6’2” tall and although he wasn’t the most skilful player on the court he was a very good rebounder and defensive player, tried his absolute best at all times and trust me you would much prefer to have him on your team than play against him.

I remember well one night at Forestville Stadium when Budapest were playing an exhibition game against Vytis, the Lithuanians, when a fight broke out between Csaba and John Gumbys from Vytis.

I last saw Gumby’s being taken away by the St John Ambulance crew with blood streaming down his face.

Opposition players always “ Socially Distanced “  themselves from Csaba, decades before they had ever heard of the phrase.

He was also a part of the infamous brawl between Norwood and West Adelaide, where both teams emptied the bench and several from each team were suspended. Czaba didn’t bother with the fight between the players, he ignored that and grabbed referee Reg Davey in a headlock and wouldn’t let go.

He received a 10 year ban for that incident, but many of us thought that he should have got a medal.

I think that he was in his early 30’s by then, so it probably didn’t really matter that much.

He enjoyed a very long Division One career with Budapest and Norwood.

Geza Nagy

Geza was the biggest of the Nagy family, about 6’4” tall and like Csaba, very well built and strong.

He was very athletic and benefitted like his brothers from spending many hours scrimmaging on their backyard court.

I clearly remember him competing for Unley High School at the Interschool Athletics carnival at Adelaide Oval in around 1963.

He was participating in the Shot Put and threw the shot completely over and out of the pit, there was a sustained hush in the crowd.

Geza represented his State in the Juniors in 1960, 61 & 62 and was then elevated to the Senior team in 1963 at 18 years of age, where SA won the National Championships in both 1963 & 64.

He continued to represent the State at Senior level for a number of years, winning some more titles.

After starting in State League with Budapest around 1961, later becoming Norwood, Geza was enticed to join West Adelaide around 1968 and was a Joint MVP of the Ampol National Invitation Tournament in Sydney in 1969 where West were defeated by the Sydney Paratels coached by Bob Elphinston in the Final.

Ironically Geza was joint MVP with Albert Leslie ( Sydney YMCA ) and Dennis Kibble ( Newcastle ) and surprisingly none of the 3 were selected in the Tournament All Star team. 

He played at State league level for many years, around 12.

Like all of his brothers, he was very mild and gentle off the court in contrast to his highly competitive approach on court.

Geza was a very good player and surely must have been close to National selection on a number of occasions.

Huba Nagy

Huba was a very talented artist and a deep thinking and sensitive guy, very quiet and always good company.

Albert Leslie remembers walking through Marion Shopping centre when Father Christmas called out to him, it was Huba dressed up as Santa providing Xmas cheer to all of the kids.

He was the best basketballer in the Nagy family, although somewhat of a late bloomer.

Although he commenced playing State League at an early age with older brothers Csaba and Geza, he was never selected in any State Junior teams. I am not sure that Budapest even contested all of the Junior grades at that time.

He was  6’4” tall with natural talent and although slender was very athletic with what might be described as a jumpers body.

Huba Nagy
Huba Nagy with a put back over Werner Linde

Huba overcame the setback of missing Junior State teams however with a stellar senior career, that included –

  • Very successful State league career with Budapest / Norwood including some State titles 
  • Multiple selections in the South Australian Senior State Team 
  • 4 Woollacott Medals as the MVP of the State League in 1968, 69, 70 & 72
  • Represented Australia at the 1970 World Championships in Ljubljana in Yugoslavia

His 4 Woollacott medals places him second in the most medals won by an individual, behind the 5 won by 36ers legend Mark Davis who played for South Adelaide in the State League.

Huba married his Unley High School sweetheart Julie Ogden.

Again, he was like his brothers, an absolute gentleman and very well liked and admired amongst his peers 

Szittya Nagy

Ziggy as he was called by his family and friends was the 4th of his brothers to play State League for Budapest / Norwood also commencing at a very young age.

I knew Ziggy really well, as we were in the same class together at Unley High School and played in several Junior State teams together, including both years in U18, 1965 in Adelaide and 1966 in Wollongong.

Although there were several Junior state players at Unley High School in 1966, none of them played Basketball for the School as most chose to play Football with the matches for both sports being played on Saturday mornings.

We then discovered that the School had entered the Basketball team in the State High School Championships, so we all decided to enter a second team, that included all of the State Junior players, 5 in total.

Not surprisingly our team went through the tournament undefeated beating Adelaide High School 75 – 29 in the Final.

The Adelaide High School team featured Ivor Kants, a State Junior and State League player for ALS, who went on the be a very successful Australian actor, securing numerous leading roles on stage and television, you may well remember him, although that night turned out to be a bit of a nightmare for him. 

Ziggy and I played with him in State Juniors.

So there we all were, turning up at school on the Monday morning, Ziggy included and presented the Principal with the Championship Trophy.

The school had no idea that we had even entered – now that was fun.

Ziggy was a very good player, really quick, good ball skills and a good shooter.

A tenacious defender he was given the task in a grand Final of defending Werner Linde.

Ziggy stuck to Werner like glue, much to Werner’s disdain and held Werner to just 4 points for the game, now that’s a great achievement.

Unbeknown to all of us however, was that whilst still at school he became involved in ballet and quickly rose to be the lead dancer for the South Australian Ballet, his athletic prowess proving extremely useful.

Szittya Nagy
Szittya ( Ziggy ) Nagy as the Principal Dancer with the South Australian Ballet

The story goes that one Sunday morning his mother was called to the front door to find Sir Robert Helpman who was wanting Ziggy to join the Australian Ballet in Sydney. The visit proved unsuccessful so undaunted Sir Robert made a second visit this time accompanied by Rudolph Nureyev again wanting to get her to agree to allow Ziggy to become a protégé and a serious ballet dancer in Sydney. After she picked her jaw back up from the floor she agreed, but Ziggy was having none of it as it meant that he would have had to leave his Adelaide home.

His promising basketball career was then cut short because of his love for ballet and he went on the enjoy a very successful full time ballet career which included many years living in South Africa as the lead dancer with the South African Ballet –  Well I never. 

I am not exactly sure where Ziggy lives these days, but he has been married to Erika for many years.

Hajnal ( Magdalena ) Nagy

I have known Maggie, as she was always called, and the Nagy family, since the early 60’s and it was not until I was researching this Blog, that I discovered that she was actually born Hajnal.

Maggie Nagy
Maggie Nagy shooting on their backyard half court aged about 15

She had a very bubbly and enthusiastic personality and was great fun to be around. 

She grew up as the only daughter of 8 children, with 6 older brothers, she must have felt very protected.

No doubt playing basketball on their backyard half court with her brothers must have surely had a big influence in the development of her game.

I say must have, because Maggie won the Halls Medal as the MVP of the Women’s State league at the age of just 15, playing for Budapest, a record that still stands today.

She had a very athletic physique and was around 5’10” tall.

She also played in several Junior State Teams as well as the Senior State Team from 1968 until 1970.

She was lured to join North Adelaide in 1968 by the then North and State Coach Merv Harris, which would seem to have been a very sensible decision.

Maggie Nagy
Maggie Nagy , far right middle row in SA State team 1970

She married Howard Black from cross town rivals West Adelaide, which must have led to some interesting family discussions ( remember the big blue ) and then moved with Howard to Sydney in late 1970.

In Sydney she continued her basketball career with Arncliffe Scots and played State basketball for NSW for several years from 1971 and was a part of some Australian National squads.

Maggie and Howard separated in 1976 and as I understand it she now lives in Far North Queensland.

Botond ( Boti ) Nagy

The last of the Nagy’s 8 children, he was the only one born in Australia, after the family had emigrated from Hungary via Austria.

Boti was born whilst the family was living in the Hunter Valley, with Akos Snr working several jobs simultaneously in Sydney and then visiting the family every 2 weeks.

Although Boti played a handful of State League games, his Basketball career was cut short early by a serious knee injury. So 5 Nagy brothers played at State league level.

He worked for many years as a Sports Journalist with News limited winning several Journalism Awards.

He married Ilze Blicavs who won 2 Halls Medals in 1973 & 84 as MVP of the State League and played for Australia numerous times, including the 1975 World championships in Colombia.

Her brother Andris ( Andy ) was an outstanding player winning 2 Woollacott Medals and playing for Australia in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal and 2 World Championships, 1974 in Puerto Rica and 1978 in Manila .

Had Andy not suffered a serious knee injury then his achievements would have been substantially greater , he was a very very good player, in my opinion the best all round Australian player in the 20th Century.

Ilze’s other brother Ivars also played State League for many years.

As I understand it Boti & Ilze 2 daughters Leva, who played on a scholarship with Troy University and Hajnal who played professionally in France . They both played State Juniors and in the State league for West Adelaide when Boti was coach.

The Blicavs Family

The name Blicavs is very widely known in Australian basketball circles, Felix, Ilmars, Ivars, Andris, Ilze, Karen, Sara, Kris, Steph, Lukas and of course Mark, who has made his name as a world class middle distance and steeplechase runner and Geelong AFL footballer.

Surely with 5 who have represented Australia at senior level and 10 who have coached and or played at Division one level and above, this must make the Blicavs, The Greatest Australian Basketball Family of all time.

The Blicavs Family
The very successful Blicavs family of sporting champions Mark  , Sara , mother Karen Ogden , father Andris , Kris

The Ilmars Blicavs Latvian family emigrated initially to New Zealand before shifting to Adelaide in the early 60’s.

Their Uncle Felix was for sometime the coach of ASK ( Adelaide Sports Klub ), but it has proven extremely difficult to locate precise information on those early days , but Felix was initially involved in the development of the 3 Blicavs children, Ivars, Andris and Ilze. His work provided some spectacular results.

Their father Ilmars subsequently took over coaching ASK from Felix and fine tuned his children’s transition into extremely talented first class players.

Ilmars was a very quiet man but very respected in basketball circles for his knowledge and understanding of the game and loved nothing more than sitting down and talking basketball with other notables, provided however that they knew what they were talking about.

The Latvian community in Adelaide was legendary for producing some wonderful players including many Olympic and Australian team players and were physically very big, athletic and strong.

They were always a force to play against.

Their parties were legendary, with the Latvian Hall at Wayville being Party Central, they definitely knew how to enjoy life.

They spoke only Latvian to each other on the court including to the referees, making comments that could certainly not be repeated in English, but always with a smile.

The Blicavs children were amongst a second generation of players in Australia, but there ASK club ultimately was forced to merge as the number of young players coming through the system began to dwindle.

Ivars Blicavs

Ivars was the oldest of Ilmars 3 children and played many years at State League level in both Adelaide & Melbourne. He was very fundamentally sound and had an excellent understanding of the game, but was somewhat overshadowed by his 2 illustrious siblings.

Ivars was described as being the glue of the team.

Like most Latvians, he was very physically strong and was quite happy to utilise his strength with all those he played against including those bigger and stronger than him.

He spent many years coaching at Junior level as well as a stint with the South Adelaide Women’s team in State league.

His son Lukas played for the Mt Gambier Pioneers in the SEABL and was part of their Championship winning team that went back to back in 2014 & 15.

Unfortunately Ivars passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 64.

Andris ( Andy ) Blicavs

Andy was an outstanding player, in my opinion the best all round Australian player of the 20th century.

He commenced playing at State League level when just 12 years old, yes that is correct 12, and you could see immediately that he was going to become an outstanding player.

Andy grew to be 6’5” tall and was very athletic with a complete fundamentally sound game.

Had he not suffered a serious knee injury in his prime, his achievements would have been significantly more. He did return following his recovery but whilst still very good, he was never quite the same as before.

He won 2 Woollacott Medals in the SA State league in 1973 & 74 and represented Australian 3 times, once as Captain in 1978, 1976 Olympics in Montreal and the World Championships in 1974 in Puerto Rica and 1978 in Manila.

In my opinion Andy was the most outstanding Australian player of the 20th Century, once described as Australia’s Dr J, a player that excelled in every facet of the game. Perhaps some will think that is a very big statement, but his complete all round game gives him the nod for me, especially prior to his serious knee injury.

Andris Blicavs
Andris Blicavs playing for Australia

He was very well qualified with a Degree in Computing Science and has held numerous Managerial positions following his basketball career.

He also went on to coach St Kilda in the NBL for several years and was also CEO of the Westside Saints ( formerly St Kilda ).

Andy is a member of the SA Basketball Hall of Fame and it is a travesty that he is not yet a member of the Australian Hall of Fame, as there are many current members whose achievements  are minor compared to what Andy has achieved. 

Basketball Australia needs to urgently fix this oversight. 

He married Karen Ogden and they have three children, Mark, Sara and Kris.

Karen Blicavs ( Ogden )

Karen was born in the Jersey isles in the UK and moved to Australia at a very young age.

She is the wife of Andris Blicavs.

She was also an outstanding player and made a significant contribution to the development of the WNBL in its 1981 inaugural season, then being both the League MVP and the leading scorer with 24.1 pts per game in the 1982 season, with her St Kilda team also going back to back in 1981 & 82.

Karen Blicavs
Karen Blicavs ( Ogden ) playing for St Kilda

They finished runners up to Nunawading in the 1983 final where she again won the MVP for the 1983 season, this time sharing the honour with Robyn Maher.

Across 130 WNBL games, she played 10 finals, averaged 16.1 pts per game at 48% for a total of 2152 pts.

She was a very athletic player and known for her strong rebounding, whilst her copy book jump shot ensured that she was consistently her teams most dangerous offensive player.

Karen represented Australia at the 1980 World Championships qualifying tournament in Bulgaria and also at the 1983 Championships in Brazil and where she was the teams 5th highest scorer with 2 x 18 pts games against Peru & Congo.

Karen was selected for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles before a crippling knee injury forced her to withdraw.

Ilze Nagy ( Blicavs )

The 3rd of Ilmars  children, Ilze enjoyed a very successful basketball career .

Like her brothers she was the beneficiary of both some solid coaching at an early age and growing up in a very competitive basketball environment. 

She commenced playing senior basketball at a very young age and went on to win 2 Halls medals as MVP of the SA Womens State League in 1973 & 1984, creating a unique double when her brother Andris also won the Men’s Medal in 1973 an achievement that still stands today.

Ilze went on to represent Australia on a number of occasions including the 1975 World Championships in Colombia .

Lize Nagy And Karen Blicavs
Ilze Nagy ( Blicavs ) & Karen Blicavs ( Ogden )

She was very good player,  very dependable and reliable and played for nearly 20 years at State League level including being Captain of her Norwood Club.

Not only did she and Andy win a medal in the same year ( 1973 ), but they both won 2 medals each, surely a feat which no other sister / brother combination could ever possibly emulate.

Ilze continues to devote time to basketball and has coached at Junior level for many years.

She is the Deputy principal at Christies Beach High School.

Mark Blicavs

Unlike the rest of his family Mark has not achieved his sporting fame through basketball.

Although he did play the game as a junior and one assumes that at 6’7” tall that he was destined for some success, instead he chose to pursue running, where he was a world class middle  distance a steeplechase competitor.

He then however switched to the very un Latvian sport of AFL where he has become a star for Geelong winning their MVP award in 2015. One assumes that he would be in line for All Australian selection and the chance to represent his country in one of their series against Ireland.

Mark Blicavs
Mark Blicavs –  world class middle distance and steeplechase runner & decorated Geelong AFL footballer

I would also imagine that he earns in one season with Geelong more than his parents did combined in their entire careers.

Sara Blicavs

Sara showed basketball promise very early and it was no surprise that at 6’2” tall that she was awarded a scholarship to the AIS, after all her basketball genes passed on from her parents are impeccable.

Sara who was raised in Melbourne won Junior State selection from U16 and then National Junior selection from U17 and she was a part of that team that finished 7th at the World Championships in France in 2009 and then also the U19 team that finished 4th in the 2011 World Junior Championships in Chile.

She has also represented her country at Senior level as part of the Opals 2015 FIBA Oceania Champion team that qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics and that also won the 2015 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup.

Sara Blicavs
Sara Blicavs playing for Australia

Sara was a part of the Opals team that participated in the test event for the Rio Olympic games.

Despite still being only 27, she has already played WNBL for 11 years.

Having previously played WNBL for the AIS, Dandenong Rangers and Bendigo Spirit, she is currently contracted to the Southside Flyers.

You would expect that she will play for several more years in the WNBL and at national level. 

Kris Blicavs

The oldest of the 3 children of Andy & Karen, Kris is also a fine physical specimen, not unlike Mark in appearance, he stands 6’5” tall and has played basketball all of his life. He has played SEABL for some time with the Ballarat Miners and currently plays as a guard for the Geelong Supercats, where he is also the strength & conditioning Coach.

He is also the strength & conditioning Coach for the Southside Flyers in the WNBL where his sister currently plays.

He works full time as the High Performance Manager at Western Heights College in Geelong.

He is married to Steph Cumming, who has been a team mate of sister Sara in several teams. 

Steph Blicavs ( Cumming )

Steph has put together a very creditable resume since winning a scholarship to the AIS in 2006  and then returning to the Dandenong Rangers, where she was raised, to win the 2012 WNBL Championship.

Steph then moved North to play with the Townsville fire winning another Championship in 2015, but returned again to Dandenong finishing as Runners up in 2017.

During the WNBL off season she has regularly played in the SEABL having stints with the Rangers, Frankston & Ballarat before leading the Kilsyth Cobras to the 2015 title and winning the SEABL MVP award 

She has represented her country at the World University Games in Russia as well as the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup alongside her sister in law Sara.

Together with husband Kris, they had their first child in October 2019 , with Steph planning to play with the Geelong Supercats for the upcoming season, the same club as Kris.

Lukas Blicavs

Lukas is the son of Ivars and played for the Mt Gambier Pioneers in their back to back SEABL Champion teams in 2014 & 2015, following on from a couple of seasons with the Mackay Meteors.

The Dalton Family

This family of 5 children grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney close to Warriewood Beach where they roamed the beaches and reserves of that beautiful location, spending endless hours swimming, surfing and playing every sport possible – Basketball, Rugby, Netball and Water Sports

The Dalton Family

3 of them Bradley, Karen and Marcus went on to Australian Basketball fame and the other 2 sisters Janelle  and Leanne along with Karen were exceptional Netballers

Bradley ( Brad ) Dalton

The oldest of the Dalton children, Brad was born in 1959 and standing at 6’9” tall, started his basketball career with Manly and it was obvious from a very early age that he would enjoy a very successful career.

He was selected in the Australian U20  team in 1978 and then joined legendary Coach Charlie Ammit at the City of Sydney Astronauts in 1979.

Charlie was a great teacher of the game and literally worshipped the ground that Brad walked on. His efforts were to be left unrewarded however, when Brad chose to leave the Astronauts poor Charlie was devastated, moving to the West Adelaide Bearcats, led by USA Player Coach Ken Richardson.  

Along with Al Green, Leroy Loggins, Peter Ali and Ray Wood, the Bearcats went on to win the National Title in 1982. ( Not a bad team hey! )

Brad played 290 NBL games also having stints with the Sydney Supersonics, Geelong Supercats and finally the Sydney Kings.

Brad played in 2 Olympic games 1984 in Los Angeles and alongside brother Mark and 1988 in Seoul. Apart from the Heard brothers Malcolm & John, who played in Rome together, the Daltons are the only other brothers to have achieved that rare feat of playing together at the same Olympic Games.

Karen was also in Los Angeles with the Opals.

Brad was also selected in 2 World Championships teams, 1982 in Colombia and 1986 in Spain.

He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

He continues his involvement in Basketball as a Junior Coach in the Manly Basketball Association.

Karen Dalton

The oldest daughter Karen was born in 1961 and like her siblings was very tall at 6’2” and has represented her country on 342 occasions as a player Junior, Senior and as a Coach.

262 of those were achieved as a Senior player including 2 Olympic games, 1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul, as well as at 4 World Championships, 1983 in Brazil, 1986 in the Soviet Union, 1990 in Malaysia and 1994 in Sydney.

Karen also played 375 WNBL games for Sydney and was the Defensive Player of the Year twice in 1990 & 1993 .

Following her outstanding playing career, she has gone on to similar success as a coach and was the Head Coach of the Sydney Flames for 9 seasons including the 2003 Championship and the Coach of the Year in 2001 / 02 season.

Karen was also the Australian Assistant Coach of the U19, U21 and U22 National teams  and then was with the 2004 Athens Olympic Games team, where the Opals took out the Silver Medal.

Karen is a WNBL Life member and was inducted into the Hall of fame in 2007.

She had the rare distinction of playing with both her brothers at the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles and then again with Brad in Seoul in 1988, this is an achievement which can surely never be equalled.

Marcus ( Mark ) Dalton

The younger brother to Brad & Karen, Mark was born in 1964.

Like Brad he played his early basketball at Manly, near the family home on Sydney’s North Shore.

He attended the AIS in Canberra and was the first AIS player to be selected in the Australian Senior team when he attended the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Mark was also selected to compete in the 1986 World Championships in Spain.

Los Angeles was a highlight of his career with both Brad & Karen also participating in those 1984 Olympic Games.

Standing 6’7” tall, he was slightly shorter than Brad, but was highly regarded for his intensity and tough approach to his game and was an excellent rebounder and defender, Mark didn’t take prisoners.

He played 421 NBL games for   – The Canberra Cannons, Geelong Supercats, Sydney Kings, Brisbane  Bullets and the Wollongong Hawks in a career spanning 15 years, including a Championship in 1984 with Canberra.

Since retiring from basketball, Mark lives in Sydney, has worked in Residential Youth care, but is currently self employed. he also does some coaching. 

Brad Dalton, Karen Dalton and Mark Dalton
Brad , Karen & Mark Dalton all wearing their Australian Uniforms

Callum Dalton

Marks son, was born in May 2000,  standing 6’9”tall was recruited to the AIS at the age of 14.

He was selected for the Australian Junior team at both U17 & U19 level and is currently with the Brisbane Bullets and you would expect to see much more of his name in the future.

There are of course other Australian families that have made a significant contribution to Australian Basketball that I have not been able to include in such detail as those above .

The Hody Brothers  

Les & brother John were refugees from Hungary who along with many other Hungarians made a huge contribution to basketball in Australia.

Les played in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic games for Hungary as a 17 year old and then again for Australia at the 1964 Tokyo games at the age of 30. The only player in the world to have ever played basketball at the Olympic games for 2 different countries 

John also played for Australia at the 1962 Invitational World Championships in Manila. They both played at the Australian Championships numerous times representing South Australia and Victoria

The Longley Family  

Both Luc and his father Rick Longley represented Australia in Basketball , with Luc going to 3 Olympics and one World Championship. Luc of course went on to a very successful NBA career for over 10 years including 3 NBA championship rings with the Chicago Bulls alongside Michael Jordan.

Luc was 7’2” tall and a giant of a man, whilst his father Rick was 6’11” , which was extremely tall at the time that he played, in the late 70’s and early 80’s. A native of Western Australia, as I recall he also played for the Melbourne Tigers under Lindsay  Gaze and some NBL games for the Wildcats in 1982. 

Luc’s uncle John Longley participated in 5 Americas Cup campaigns from 1974 – 1987 and was the project manager and an integral member of John Bertrand’s Americas Cup winning team in 1983.

I sincerely apologise if I have missed some deserving Families, if so it was purely an oversight.

I have tried to research this article as best I can, but obtaining detailed and correct information, especially on the older players can be extremely difficult, so I sincerely apologise if you find some errors here.

Your comments, thoughts and any additional information would be most welcome.

Australia’s Greatest Basketball Families

10 Responses

  1. Sensational work, Malcolm! Enjoyed especially
    photos of early days of Aussie hoops including
    Ian Watson and an extraordinary photo(s) of the Big Guy who
    was so named at foot of the statue of MJ in front of the
    United Center where you pulled strings with your
    mate, Jerry Krause GM of the Bulls, to secure us
    one of a kind seats for the Chicago-Phoenix game.

  2. Great reading Mal! You may be interested in the Face Book page I post. It’s for BSA and its called Basketball South Australia History. LIKE it and you’ll get a post or two every week featuring about 15-20 pics and clippings from South Australia’s basketball past, usually ranging from the 1950’s to 2020. I’m sure you will LOVE it as you come across players to you knew or played with or against.

  3. Hi Mal, just a bit of trivia for you. My heritage is Latvian, and my uncle, Olgerts (Olly) Resnais was captain of the S.A. basketball team some time in the early to mid 1950s. He only passed away this year at age 97. I remember visiting him in the 1960s, and he showed front page newspaper clippings about his car going over the edge of a cliff somewhere – and it referred to his basketball and how he was now injured and could not play in some upcoming championship.

    I was born in Mt Gambier, but grew up in Melbourne where I played for the equivalent of ASK, namely MLS (Melbourne Latvian Sports) which survived in A-Grade of the state league until the late 1960s. I was still young and sat on the bench for just one game. I remember playing against the Gazes, both Lindsay and Andrew in the same team in the Monday night competition run by Melbourne Church (later Tigers) towards the end of my career. Andrew was about 16 and I recall that we won the game by “freezing the ball” for the last minute and p**ed him off. No 24 second clock in those days.

    The junior team I was in was pretty competitive and I recall many a stoush with ASK and the young Blicavs boys during the annual Latvian cultural festival.

  4. Hi jack , many thanks for your note . I hope that you enjoyed reading the blog . There are also numerous other blogs on the website which you might also enjoy .
    Let me know what you think , I would enjoy hearing your thoughts .
    I played against ASK many times when I first began playing State league as a 16 year old .
    they were very big and very good players , names such as Inga Freidenfelds , The Dancis brothers , Eddie Ceplitis , Tom Tiliks . There were 4 Olympians and 3 of them went to 2 Olympic games .
    I’m sorry but I haven’t heard of your uncle , he was a little bit early for me .
    ASK have eventually evolved into Southern Tigers here in Adelaide .
    I think that Andy Blicavs is the best Australian Basketballer that I have seen , especially before he injured his knee , better I think than Andrew Gaze and Eddie Palubisnkas and they were both outstanding .
    I look forward to hearing back from you if you have the time
    best regards Malcolm

  5. Thank you Malcolm! Great article. Especially enjoyed learning more about the Heard brothers – SA Church Basketball Legends. I’m the current Chair/President of modern day SA Church District Club, and enjoy talking with John about both the past and present of Church Basketball. Leighton Boyd, Chair SA Church Stars Basketball Club.

  6. Many thanks Leighton for your kind comments .
    I was fortunate enough to have known the Heard brothers as well as playing with them . In fact my first District game at 16 years of age , was John’s last before he moved to Canberra with IBM . I played with Mal for several seasons . They were both outstanding players and outstanding people . John was asked by Jeff Mullins ( USA Olympian ) at the 1964 Tokyo games to come to the USA and play in the NBA . Mal was a real mentor to all of the younger players and led by example winning 2 Woolacott Medals .
    I hope that things are going well for you and the Club . Just as an aside , in the late 60’s we were often referred to as ” The God Squad ” , but I assure you under Mal’s guidance we played with much intensity and passion
    best regards
    Malcolm Simpson

  7. Malcolm this is an outstanding resource, I am researching basketball families and this page came up. I just love the thorugh research you put into this. The photo of an elderly Ken Watson brought back a vivid memory when I met him at Albert Park in 1974. I was a 25 year old new arrival from Malta looking to coach basketball having a FIBA Coaching Diploma. Ken and Lindsay Gaze introduced me to Nunnawading Demons manager Ian McRobert and I was eventually appointed coach of the men’s team who played in the VABA and in the Australian Club Championships. Is it ok if I use a couple of the photos on my FB Basketball page, I will of course acknowledge the source. Just an amazing piece of basketball history BRAVO>

  8. I do believe you could do the Specht/Bruning family being one and the same.

  9. Wonderful info. I knew many of them through umpiring and playing in Adelaide. Great to read about all of them.

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