Former Melbourne Tigers star Blair Smith.
Former Melbourne Tigers star Blair Smith.

‘He’s a great man’: Gaze’s tears for fallen teammate

AUSSIE legend Andrew Gaze has been reduced to tears and the basketball community is in mourning after the death of Melbourne Tigers championship player Blair Smith.

Smith, who won a championship alongside Gaze in 1997, was found dead on Thursday after being reported missing earlier this week.

Through tears, the Sydney Kings coach remembered Smith as "a great man".

"It's a tough one because I become very emotional just thinking about it," Gaze said following his side's loss to Brisbane.

"We won a title with Blair in '97.

"I don't remember his specific role in the title, but I remember him as a friend, as someone we loved and cared deeply about."

"Myself and Copes (Former Tigers' teammate and current Kings assistant Lanard) have had a real tough couple of days.

"We've cried because they're the things you remember."

Melbourne Tigers star Blair Smith (left) celebrates with teammate Daniel Egan after the Tigers beat the Brisbane Bullets in 1998.
Melbourne Tigers star Blair Smith (left) celebrates with teammate Daniel Egan after the Tigers beat the Brisbane Bullets in 1998.

"You just feel ... maybe I should have made another call? I saw him last year, maybe I should have reached out to him? Could I have helped?"

Tributes flowed for Smith, 45, with Gaze's father, legendary Tigers coach Lindsay saying he'd "never met a man who didn't like Blair Smith".

"It is difficult to accept that one of our favourite sons has left us in the prime of his life,"

Gaze said in a statement on the Melbourne Tigers website.

Andrew Gaze's Kings have had a wretched run in 2017, falling to 3-11 after the loss, but he says Smith's death "puts this stuff into perspective".

"I was thinking of using that (Smith) to try and talk to the fellas, but I couldn't do it because it was not appropriate, because it's a personal thing. But it does keep what we're doing in perspective.

"I'm gutted I can't help the guys and we're 3-11, but the thoughts that you go through with someone like that and the struggles that he clearly has had, it's really hard to accept."

Smith played 259 NBL games and was part of the Tigers' all-time franchise record streak of 16 consecutive wins that led them to the 1997 title.

Last year, Smith coached Gladstone's Queensland Basketball League team, the Port City Power.

He is survived by wife Rebecca and two sons. His death is not being treated as suspicious.

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