ACHARA LAUDS BATTLE UPHILL

An emotional Kieron Achara claimed Great Britain’s players were determined to beat the odds stacked against them after securing a place at next summer’s EuroBasket finals.

Despite a ignominious 82-75 loss to minnows Luxembourg in their final qualifier, results in other groups saw GB end up as one of the best four runners-up to earn a spot in their first major tournament for four years.

And in the wake of losing their UK Sport funding, and with several leading lights including Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng declining to turn out, Achara believes the achievement was among the national side’s finest hours.

“I was in the locker room crying my eyes out for no reason at all,” the GB captain revealed. “I’m just so proud of the guys. Since 2012, people have been saying various things, that ‘we’re missing this guy or that guy’. ‘GB’s doing this but not doing that.’ We found a way and that’s the most important thing.

“For some inexperienced guys to get the chance to play in EuroBasket next year means so much to us. We know we’ve got a lot to work on. But we’re going to do it together.

“That’s the thing. We have to find a way to make people understand that basketball means a lot to us, especially in the UK. We’re not going to give up. We’ve had funding taken away. But the only thing we can control is how we play.

“Getting to a EuroBasket is one step closer to achieving our goal of playing regularly at that level. Hopefully UK Sport and the other bodies can see we’re getting there.”

It remains a work in progress. Some shone, others stuttered. Dan Clark, the side’s most outstanding performer of the summer, has joined Achara as its emotional leader. Whenever Andrew Lawrence was on the floor, the bar was raised a notch. In Gabe Olaseni, hustle was never far from the scene.

But Ben Gordon, whose arrival was much hailed, frequently looked more like a BBL journeyman than a NBA veteran and it remains to be seen whether he will land a lucrative enough Euro deal to prolong his career.

For all the sparkling moments, Prunty could do with a couple of extra gems – Myles Hesson in particular – to arrive as reinforcements in 2017.

Creditably, GB found a way to recover from an opening defeat to Hungary that left many fearing the worse in the wake of a dismal preparatory spell.

“It’s belief,” Achara said. “We had a really bad start to the campaign with losing all the friendly games. Confidence gets knocked. And you realise you can’t take a play off in the qualifiers. They weren’t 19 points better than us but you realise quickly that 19 points can cost you the campaign so you better focus on every single play.

“Against Macedonia on Wednesday, we didn’t realise we needed to beat them by such a large margin. We just kept plugging away. That’s what you have to do. It’s a short campaign. Every play counts.”

Joe Prunty’s men, who ended with a 3-3 record, were ripped apart in the second half by their hosts who celebrated their first European win in over 15 years as GB – paced by 16 points from Andrew Lawrence and nine from Scottish forward Gareth Murray – completed a topsy-turvy campaign on an extreme low.

“This shows our inexperience where we didn’t stick together,” said Achara. “But you see the potential this team can have. We’ve got so much to work on. This is a humbling experience. We have to realise we’re not good enough to take a night off. But the team know that. We’ve got a strong nucleus. We’re missing some big players. I know we’ll find a way to gel and be ready for EuroBasket next year.”

Pic: Mansoor Ahmed

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