ACHARA STILL REVELLING IN SPOTLIGHT

Kieron Achara wants soak up every second when he leads Great Britain into action at EuroBasket in what could be his last major tournament.

The Glasgow Rocks forward, now 34, can feel the clock ticking on a career that’s taken him from being a young pup with Falkirk Fury to going toe to toe with some of the goliaths of the NBA – at the London 2012 Olympics and elsewhere.

Skippering my country in a major tournament is more than I could ever have dreamt of, Stirling’s super-sized star signals.

Especially back in 2006 when a torn shoulder blew up his chance of pulling on a Scotland vest at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and it felt like the end of the world.

He said: “It was really hard. I was so down once I knew there was no chance of getting fit for the Games.

“And then I came back to Stirling, and I was randomly taking my dog for a walk near the Castle, and they were holding big event for all of Team Scotland. Seeing all of them, with their kilts on, it was really tough to take.

“The guys played pretty well without me but at that time, it felt like that I missed the biggest thing in basketball I could imagine ever being at.

“Playing for Great Britain wasn’t on my radar then. So I’m thankful that, touch wood, I’ll get to go to the Commonwealth Games finally next year.”

Gold Coast 2018 – with a Scotland side coached by new Rocks (and GB) coach Tony Garbelotto – won’t quite be the last hurrah but Achara desperate to help GB qualify for the 2019 World Cup in China.

But he’s already picked out his next mission: to make sure the next generation are tough enough and talented enough to ensure the GB sides aren’t a Scot-free zone. Rocks team-mate Gareth Murray, the other Tartan titan in Joe Prunty’s 12-man Euro squad, is already coaching Scotland’s under-16s as a sideline.

While Achara’s been out banging the drum all summer, inviting the top teens in the nation to come practice with him so they get a first-hand look at just how much work is needed to survive as a pro.

But they also need to be pushed all year round, he insists.

“The best young Scottish players need to be facing all the best British players on a regular basis. Not just being up here in a bubble.

“We have to find a way – whether it’s tournaments or joint league – because better competition makes players improve. That’s basic. Same for coaches. If you’re around better coaches, you learn.”

Achara led GB through final practice in Istanbul on Thursday (Mansoor Ahmed)

That was why Achara bolted for the States at the age of 16, first to high school, then university – and then returning to Europe to play in the A-List leagues of Spain and Italy.

But there has been nothing that’s quite matched the summer of 2012 when GB took their spot among the giants in London – and knocked off China for an historic win with the Scot’s scoring leading the way.

And Kieron said: “I still watch that game every day! No, really, I had a nice collage of photos from that made up. I have my Olympic tattoo. That was the pinnacle of my career and I don’t think anything can top that.

“But it was in the moment. I felt I could have played more at those Games but I didn’t get the opportunity. It would have been easy to say ‘coach, doesn’t like me.’ But I’m thankful I did deliver when the chance came.”

All that knowledge will help with the Brits facing a tough first round that tips off in Istanbul on Friday against Belgium before taking on hosts Turkey, then Latvia and Russia with Rio 2016 runners-up Serbia sandwiched in between.

But with a lot of superstars opting out from national duty this summer, there’s bound to be a few shocks. And after never making it past the initial stage before, this would be a great time for GB’s mix of young guns and old stagers to come good, Achara admits.

“EuroBasket is a tournament where with the pressure and atmosphere, guys can tense up and it can make it all to play for. We deserve to be here. Now we want to prove we can win games.”

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