To have one Olympian in a family may be a happy turn of fate but to have two cannot be attributed to mere coincidence. Kieron Achara will savour the greatest opportunity of his basketball career when he steps onto the court on Sunday as Great Britain begin what many expect to be a tough challenge at the Games.
Watching on will be his greatest cheerleader, his brother Idris, who has marched his path before.
Achara, then at high school in Stirling, remembers a sense of pride as he followed his elder sibling at the 2000 Special Olympics in Athens, competing in basketball for Team GB. Both spent a part of their early childhood in Nigeria before their mother Marion took her children back to Scotland, accepting the challenge of single parenthood.
“If you ever ask me who my biggest hero is, it’s my Mum,” Achara states. “She worked two jobs at times. Plus I was very fortunate that my grandparents were close by to help me as well.” Times were often hard, he hints, especially with the extra care required by Idris. Still they wanted for nothing, he recalls.
“What I’m most thankful for is when I turned 16, most people I knew in my neighbourhood were leaving school so they could go to work and bring home money for their families. My Mum made me stay in school. She made sure I had all the opportunities to go to university and make a life for myself. She never allowed me to worry about money. It was all about me. I respected her so much for that. The hard work and my sense of motivation all comes from her.”
He had to battle to make Britain’s team for the Olympics. Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls will be its unquestioned star with others revolving in his orbit. It is no easy task, Achara affirms. Two years ago, in the Italian League, he was the leader of his team but last season, in the superior Spanish League, he flourished as a domestique. In GB’s training camp, it became an undoubted virtue.
“I feel more comfortable being that role guy,” he confirms. “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.”
Much faith has been placed on a British success at the Olympics to advance the sport out of the doldrums and, to borrow London 2012’s mantra, to inspire a generation. 20 years ago, Barcelona’s Games – and the heroics of the legendary United States of that year – catalysed what has become a golden era for Spanish basketball as the country as reaped European and world titles.
Achara, who started out with the Falkirk Fury club, would love a similar legacy here. “Even now, when I was in Barcelona last season, people still remember 92 like it was yesterday,” he recounts. “It was a phenomenal performance from the Dream Team and people still talk about it. You still see posters of those guys. I’m sure with the funding and all the hard work they’ve put into the Games in London, we’ll see benefits.”
Sooner rather than later, he hopes. GB remain long shots for glory after failing to get out of the first round in their appearance at last year’s EuroBasket in Lithuania. Little is expected, especially with the might of Spain and Russia lurking in the preliminary round.
Achara, as is his natural wont, remains optimistic. “When you play at the Olympic stage, you’re up against the best in the world,” he declares.
“But we have to find the confidence to get a couple of early wins and get going from that. For me, the sky is the limit. I really believe that with the talent we have, we can make the quarter-finals. But it’s about getting that to work as a team. That’s the hardest part.”
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