On the trips to the supermarket, drinking coffee in the street, Kieron Achara became well accustomed to the kindness of strangers.
In Manresa, located near the geographic centre of Catalunya, the town’s Scottish resident was offered a home from home, embraced as much through a sense of kinship as for his performances for the local basketball team.
“Culturally, Catalunya is very similar to Scotland and Manresa is similar to a small town like Stirling, other than the weather,” declares Achara, who has just returned home following his first season in the ultra-competitive Spanish League.
“It was nice to have a small town behind you. Everyone knows everybody. They see you as their own and they want you to do well. Even now, I’m getting messages of support for the Olympics even though I don’t know if I’m going back.”
The offer, he hints, is already on the table. He is tempted to accept.
Next week, following a brief reunion with friends and family, he will fly to the United States to begin his battle to earn a place on Great Britain’s Olympic team.
The towering 2.08 metres forward began his career with Falkirk Fury before earning a scholarship to university in Pittsburgh. Since turning professional, he had plied his trade in Italy other than a one-game cameo for Glasgow Rocks until the summons to Spain arrived last summer.
“At the start of the season, when the NBA was in lockout, I was playing in the best league in the world,” he reflects. “The competition is so high in the ACB that even clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid lost games this year.”
It was a huge step up in class but Achara’s prior international experience gave him confidence. “I felt like playing for GB in the past, especially at the EuroBasket in 2009, I put on a good show,” he affirms. “I went up against the Spains and Slovenias and felt I was ready for that level.”
Unexpectedly, he failed to make Britain’s team for last summer’s European finals. Privately, there were regrets among the coaching staff and a view that Achara was discarded prematurely. Ahead of the Olympics, he will be part of an initial 18-strong squad which will gather in Houston and battle it out for the 12 spots in London.
GB will lean heavily upon stars like the Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng. But, says Achara, they will also need water carriers. His CV has been polished.
“My experience in the Italian Division Two, that was my opportunity to have a starring role on a team,” he reflects. “I enjoyed being a key player. But I feel more comfortable being that role guy. Changing the energy of the game, doing the dirty work that others don’t do.
“I enjoyed it. And the fans embraced me for doing what I do. I’m very comfortable with it. I embraced it. That’s something now I feel is good for my career.
“It’s not a bad thing. I’m not dropping my goals. I just feel it’s better for me.”
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