ACHARA GIVES PRUNTY DEBUT VICTORY

1. Standard Life GB head coach, Joe PruntyGreat Britain began their uncertain summer without Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops Mensah-Bonsu with a 61-55 win over Puerto Rico at the Copper Box. Kieron Achara – on his 50th cap – led the team with 13 points and 11 rebounds, Kyle Johnson added 11 points and Andrew Sullivan 10.

When Dan Clark was rested, GB were reduced just five Olympians. That didn’t mean an abundance of new caps, however. Ogo Adegboye was the last cut before London 2012 and Devon Van Oostrum was returning after being dropped for the Olympics after some promising moments at EuroBasket 2011.

Justin Robinson played in the qualifiers in 2010 and Dzaflo Larkai would have done so in 2008 if he had avoided injury in the warm-up games. Even Myles Hesson and Alex Marcotullio can claim to be one-cap wonders (2012 and 2011 respectively). This left Scotland’s Ali Fraser as the sole new cap in the line-up.

“It’s good to see the guys coming back in,” said Achara. “I‘ve been there, I’ve been on the cutting block myself – but you stay part of GB and it’s important that we keep that family thing going.”

Puerto Rico, whose main squad are preparing for Americas qualifiers, fielded a team of which 11 players ply their trade in the domestic league, raising questions as to whether this was a full international.

But as a spectacle and a first game of the summer, it certainly was worth playing. GB started their five Olympians and Achara and Lawrence made the most immediate impressions.

Achara was inspired (Mansoor Ahmed/BB)

Achara was inspired (Mansoor Ahmed/BB)

Achara’s defensive intensity has not diminished in the last 12 months –he had six blocked shots, one of them a backhand that fellow Scot Andy Murray would have been proud of – and Lawrence, who stroked a three before connecting with Johnson on an to peg back an early 10-5 advantage for the visitors.

Sullivan’s personal six-point surge at the start of the second quarter, the last basket on a pass from Robinson, gave the team confidence and Achara’s three brought a 30-26 lead, but GB struggled to connect from two-point range (6-26 in the first half), twice failing despite getting three shots on a single offence.

Level at the break, GB had Lawrence to thank for a near-perfect start to the second half. A pair of frees and a corner jumper were followed by two exquisitely-judged assists to Johnson for transition scores. Van Oostrum and Robinson came in and combined for six points to post a 44-42 three-quarter lead.

Sullivan, with two tough drives to the basket, and Adegboye, with a three, gave GB a good start to a fourth quarter that saw the visitors fail to score for five and a half minutes. Lawrence then found Johnson for a three with 1:09 remaining after Achara had secured his MVP award with a two and a three-point play.

“It hit me hard – I turned 30 and now I’m a veteran the team – it’s unbelievable, but I’m taking on the role and enjoying it,” said Achara. “It’s a younger side – with youth comes an added hunger and it’s up to the coach to mould us together and get the right combinations. I‘m really looking for the challenge for EuroBasket.”

Carlos Emory had 12 points to pace Puerto Rico.

While new GB coach Joe Prunty was happy with the team’s first – and only – publicly-attended game this summer before the team leaves for Slovenia. Monday’s second game against Puerto Rico was designated a behind-closed-doors affair.

“This is Game One – we’re learning the nuances of what we want to do. I‘m pleased with the defence and that’s our primary focus but we certainly have to get better, there’s no doubt about that. In EuroBasket, nothing is easy – arguably this is the best competition in the world.”

Lawrence impressed (Mansoor Ahmed/BB)

Lawrence impressed (Mansoor Ahmed/BB)

Lawrence was somewhat undersold by a statistical line that credited him with only three assists but he played with a measured confidence that benefitted the team’s coherence when he was on the floor.

“I felt I was pretty confident last year – I love to play basketball and I love to compete – I’m always up for the challenge,” said Lawrence.

“This year, being without our stars means I get a chance to step up. Still being one of the younger guys, though.”

Expect Lawrence’s confidence and GB’s encouraging start to be tested by their upcoming programme against Finland, Greece, Sweden and Poland, even before a double-header against Spain looms into view.

And funding depends on the outcome of this summer’s programme. No pressure.

 

 

Notes: Jamell Anderson, Dan Clark, Orlan Jackman, Liam Potter and Gareth Murray omitted today for GB. Starters: Lawrence, Johnson, Sullivan, Achara, Boateng.

 

 

 

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