Andrew Gaze: Australia's NBL is closing the gap to the NBA

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Sydney Kings coach Andrew Gaze believes all five NBL teams heading over to the United States for preseason games later this year have a genuine chance of causing an upset and that in itself shows just how far the Australian league has come.

NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman on Wednesday morning announced a seven-game tour -- a significant jump from the three games played in 2017 -- which will begin on September 28th and see half of the NBL's 10 teams travelling to North America for games against some of the NBA's best franchises.

Gaze, an Australian basketball Hall of Famer, says this type of partnership would have been considered a fantasy merely a few years ago and the notion of an Australian team being able to beat an NBA franchise was even more laughable.

"Three or four years ago this was just a farfetched dream," Gaze said. "It's a credit to the organisations of both Basketball Australia and the NBL and the way in which they've been able to build the relationship and trust in order to enable these opportunities to occur.

"NBL teams have shown that they can compete [with NBA teams] and we have an expectation that we can be competitive and have a realistic chance of getting a win.

"If you had have said that a few years ago you really would have been bringing out the straitjacket or seeking some sort of medical attention because that was suggesting that perhaps you're not all there but we saw last year that it's not miles away."

Gaze was referring to Melbourne United's gallant effort against a star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder team during last year's tour when the Australian side suffered a last-gasp 86-85 defeat but proved the NBL can go toe-to-toe with the NBA's best.

The NBA is still clearly the benchmark league in world basketball, but Gaze believes the NBL, along with a number of other leagues, are beginning to close the gap.

Massive news coming out of the NBL this morning with the announcement of a huge lineup of preseason games between NBA and NBL sides in September and October this year.

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"When you think of the overall standards it's got a long way to go but whether it's the NBL or many of the leagues through the other parts of the world, the gap [to the NBA] is getting smaller and smaller," Gaze told ESPN. "It's really evident by the number of international players that actually play in the NBA these days.

"The quality of players that we're getting in the NBL now is of a very high standard, and as such the quality of the competition has gained the respect of the United States and the NBA.

"I think the NBA is keeping a close eye on the NBL for talent and these types of games will help secure our position on the global stage."

The 2018 tour will kick-off in Philadelphia with reigning NBL champions Melbourne going up against Aussie Ben Simmons -- the NBA's recently crowned Rookie of the Year -- and the 76ers. United will also play this year's No. 1 Eastern Conference seed Toronto Raptors later in the tour. Meanwhile, Gaze's Kings will be in action in Honolulu with a game against the LA Clippers.

Perth Wildcats and New Zealand Breakers also feature before the tour closes with Adelaide 36ers facing Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.