Kieron Achara: Outlook's sunny for basketball star

THE OFFERS are coming in thick and fast, reveals Kieron Achara. There's been interest from Turkey. And from Italy and Greece as well. Given that the newly-turned professional basketballer had instructed his agent to give opportunities in sunnier climes a priority, these are welcome calls.

More so since Achara, a 6ft 7ins forward from Stirling, has spent the past four years in Pittsburgh at Duquesne University. "The summers weren't too bad but the winters are terrible," he jokes in an accent which has remained immune to Americanisation.

Such aversion to sub-zero temperature would, however, have been readily overcome had a recent chance to join the Chicago Bulls borne fruit. They made him an offer of a trial. Sheer luck, he modestly insists. With his future seemingly mapped out across the Atlantic, he had been working out at their practice court at the invitation of their British star Luol Deng, sharpening his skills while picking up the tricks of the trade from those who earn their corn in the NBA.

"I was just playing pick-up at the Bulls facility with a couple of players: Joakim (son of tennis player Yannick] Noah. Plus Luol. But the head of college scouting came in and told me he'd watched five of my game tapes from Duquesne. He told me 'from what we see of you, we'd love to have you in our summer league team. So come out and try out for that.'"

He got excited. He stood and admired the six championship trophies won in the Michael Jordan era and wondered what might be. Then they called again. No room at the inn.

No biggie. In Europe, he will earn a good living. Fellow Scot Rob Archibald recently signed a deal worth around 10,000 a week with Malaga while a number of players have opted to spurn the NBA this summer, lured eastward by the kind of sums which would test the salary caps of the Old Firm.

The money will come in handy, no doubt. Vitally, Achara wants to perform on the court rather than kick his heels on the sideline, a stipulation which will factor heavily in his eventual choice of suitor.

"It's a ladder process and I have to work my way up," he states. "I just want somewhere that I can play in my first year and work on my game. And then try out for the NBA next year. I don't think going to a bigger European club where I'll sit on the bench will help me progress."

Having begun his career with Falkirk Fury before becoming one of the youngest ever Scotland debutantes, Achara is not without ambition. You need it, he says, to survive in the relentless and ruthless world of American college basketball. Next week, he will address an unconquered challenge: to land a place on the Great Britain squad that will attempt, in September, to qualify for the 2009 European Championships.

Twelve months ago, Achara just missed the cut but received encouragement from the head coach Chris Finch: come back next year, and you might be ready.

"I definitely feel more ready," Achara confirms. "With any situation, when you go in feeling you don't know anybody, you look at the veteran players and get a bit star-struck, You see players you've idolised but are now competing against them. I know coach Finch now, his methods, what he wants. Not only that, I've worked out with the star player (Deng] and so I can see how I might fit alongside him. That's definitely a good thing to have.

"I know I've really improved the range on my jump shot and that's something a lot of players at my position don't have. Hopefully that shows I can stretch a defence, or play for the GB team."

NAME: Kieron Achara

DATE OF BIRTH: 03/07/83

AGE: 25

BORN: Stirling

KEY MOMENT: Going into my third year at Duquesne, I was named captain and I got the honour of the Most Improved Player in the Atlantic 10 Conference. To win an award that (GB team-mate) Pops Mensah Bonsu had done before was a reward for the work I'd put in. And it gave me confidence which I'd lacked. Players in America are so confident whereas I'd never wanted to be the superstar.

INSPIRATION: Everyone talks about the NBA players they idolise but I looked up to Keith Bunyan. He had a stint with the Scottish Rocks and played for Falkirk and he was everything I wanted to be because of his work ethic. He's always sending me motivational emails and when I'm back in Scotland, he works with me. He helped me see I had the ability even when I didn't see it.

ASPIRATION: 2012 stands out. Walking out with the Great Britain team would be a great honour. Plus one day I'd like to start an academy in Scotland like they have in the States to combine academics and sports.