TIME flies when you’re having fun, so they say, and in that case Kieron Achara must have had a pretty enjoyable century so far.
He turns 30 next month and his experience in professional basketball makes him a father figure to the rest of the Scotland squad who will take on England in two matches at Meadowbank this weekend. But it barely feels like yesterday since he was the baby of the team.
“I was the youngest ever to play for Scotland, at 16, and I remember looking at some of the old guys in the team,” he reflects. “Now that old guy is me.
“I’m 29, nearly 30 – it hits you so quick. I’m definitely going to try and be a leader, help out with my experience.
“Playing at a higher level, sometimes you see things that other guys just don’t. It’s my job to make it easier for them, and I think I’ve been doing that.”
We are at The Peak sports centre in his home town of Stirling, where he has been training for the international double-header – part of the International Summer Slam at the capital venue which will also feature women’s and age-group internationals. For Achara, who is far more accustomed to playing for Team GB, the weekend will be a good chance to assess the growing strength of basketball back in Scotland.
“It’s going to be a very entertaining weekend. I really believe that the under-14s will put on a great show, and it will be a great experience for them.
“I haven’t played against England since I was 18 or 19, so I’m really looking forward to playing against some of the younger guys coming through the British ranks. It’s going to be a nice fight.
“It all depends on how we handle the pressure. They’re a very athletic team so, if we can slow them down with our strength and inside, I think we can win. But, if we struggle with their athleticism, it could be a long couple of days.”
Whatever the results at the weekend, the Scottish and English teams have a couple of common longer-term objectives. To prove that basketball deserves to be funded at Olympic level and to showcase a sport which they believe can attract thousands of new participants – provided they get a chance to try it out.
In its post-2012 review, UK Sport cut British Basketball’s funding on the grounds that it was unable to prove it could win a medal at either of the next two Olympics. After an appeal there was a reprieve, and the governing body now has a year to demonstrate that it is on course to challenge for a podium place.
“Basketball has got a lot to prove in Britain,” accepts Achara. “A lot is relying on this year, and this is a great chance for us to prove that we’re worthy of being an Olympic team. “The BBL has been growing every year. I believe that in the next couple of years it’s going to be at a standard that it can match other leagues in Europe.
“In countries such as Spain and Greece, you see kids growing up playing basketball, and that’s hard to find here. I don’t know if it’s because the weather is nicer there, or whether it’s a lot harder here to book halls.
“That’s what is good about a place like the Peak. It’s not just flooded with five-a-side football pitches, and kids can play basketball or sports like trampolining and things they couldn’t do before. So it’s more of a cultural thing, I believe, and over time, the culture is starting to change.
“Okay, we’re still a football-dominated country but kids are now looking at other avenues. Look at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow – wait till you see the amount of cyclists we produce because of that facility. Once the infrastructure is in place, these sports will grow.
“You can’t just fund sports that we’re good at. You have to think about potential too, and basketball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK.”
Ironically, efforts to help basketball grow in this country could have been made a lot easier had Abuja beaten Glasgow for the right to host next year’s Commonwealth Games. There was only one difference between the programmes offered by the Scots city and the Nigerian capital – Glasgow favoured triathlon, Abuja had basketball.
“The decision has been made, but it’s not going to dishearten the basketball community,” Achara reckons. “I can come down here any evening and see kids getting coached and, when I was younger, that didn’t happen.
“It’s so accessible, for men and women, and, although there’s a stereotype that you’ve got to be tall, there are so many different positions. The taller guys may get the exposure, but there’s a lot more to the game than that.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got a long way to go. But the potential is definitely there.”
• The International Summer Slam is at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh from Friday to Sunday. The senior Scotland men’s team will play England on Saturday and Sunday. For fixtures and tickets see www.basketball-scotland.com.