Reuters: Iran's first Olympic basketball campaign for 60 years has been tinged by tragedy after one of their players was killed in a car accident last year.
By Alastair Himmer
BEIJING (Reuters) – Iran's first Olympic basketball campaign for 60 years has been tinged by tragedy after one of their players was killed in a car accident last year.
Aidin Bahrami's death in December triggered shock throughout the team and left brother and team mate Samad devastated.
"We were only a year apart and we would always play basketball together," Samad told reporters, almost whispering.
Centre Hamed Hadadi described how Aidin's sudden death has left a scar on the team but galvanized the players ahead of their opening game against European champions Russia on Sunday.
"He was such a good player," said Hadadi. "His death has deeply saddened the whole team and left its mark. It's such a great pity. We're all very upset."
Iran qualified for the Olympics for the first time since 1948 last year by winning the Asian title in the absence of a full-strength China team.
The Persian Gulf team face a baptism of fire against the Russians in their Group A opener at the new basketball arena.
"Nobody expects a miracle from us," shrugged guard Mahdi Kamrany. "But mentally we are ready for it. We have nothing to lose and we don't have any pressure."
Defending Olympic gold medalists Argentina, Lithuania, Croatia and Australia are also in the same group as Iran, whose young team can only realistically hope to gain experience.
Favorites the United States and world champions Spain are in Group B.
"We are a very young team," said Hadadi. "Most of us are about 22 or 23 years old. The oldest player is only 25. But we've been playing together for four months and the spirit is good."
Head coach Rajko Toroman at least talked the talk before a likely thrashing at the hands of Russia.
"We will go for the win," said the Serbian. "We didn't come here to lose. We are already focused on this game and we will be aggressive with them."
(Editing by Miles Evans)