Dukes get connection to London Olympics
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It has been years since Kieron Achara, arms a mile long, paced the campus at Duquesne with that infectious Scottish lilt.
One of the last players of coach Danny Nee's era, he has made his way through pro basketball in Europe since graduating in 2008. Now, perhaps, he is bound for London 2012.
Achara has a solid shot at playing for Great Britain's Olympic team this summer in London. The nation will field its first Olympic basketball team since 1948 -- the last time it played host to the Games.
He will be among 16 players trying out for the team in Houston, Texas, this month. He may be joined by new Duquesne player Ovie Soko, a transfer from the University of Alabama at Birmingham who is from London. Soko is an alternate candidate.
Achara, a 6-foot-10 forward, has been a member of the national team since '07, but will have to earn his way onto the final roster of 12, to be named in early July. Two alternates will bring the total roster to 14.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge and will enjoy it as long as it lasts," said Achara last week during a visit to Pittsburgh. "I'll do what I do every year. I'm an energy guy, a role player. I give everything I have, I think it's the Scottish in me. Wherever I've played, I've been fortunate to be a fan favorite. I feel like I know my niche, I know what I'm good at."
The team is coached by Chris Finch, an assistant for the NBA's Houston Rockets from Reading, Pa.
Achara, said Finch, has been a dependable player for the program.
"He's played a variety of roles for us, really, over his time with the national team. He's always found a way to make a contribution, make a play, get a rebound, make a shot, get a tip in or a block," said Finch. "He's one of these guys you could not play him for a long time, but he'll get a chance and he's always ready to make the play."
His attitude, said Finch, is even better.
"He's a wonderful teammate, great worker, passionate about his basketball and everything you'd want in a national team player," said Finch.
Soko, unavailable this week while playing in Europe as part of the British national program's Futures team, is a longer shot to make the team. But, Finch said, he too could come through.
"One thing we like to do is keep bringing in our younger players. Every year, there's guys who come through we didn't expect much out of who contribute really important minutes. Ovie has the ability to do that," said Finch.
"He's more of a 4 [power forward], but he's got to play much more as a 3 [swing man]. ... At the moment, we're holding back and will make a decision early next week."
Ultimately, the team's goal is advancing from group play while helping to grow the game.
Finch likened basketball in Great Britain to soccer in America: wildly popular at the youth and grassroots levels, but inconsistent and "patchy" at the pro level.
"At the moment, it's kind of in a dip. But we feel like the national program has the entire community excited and going in the right direction for a while," said Finch.
Sounds good to Achara.
A soccer player until 16, he picked up basketball late, came to Pittsburgh for a youth tournament at Robert Morris and set his sights on Duquesne.
It has taken him everywhere since.
First Published June 13, 2012 12:00 am