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Through reading hoops with a $20m ball player

"Putting a ball in a hole" is how John Amaechi describes what he does for a living. The fact that he does it for US basketball team, Orlando Magic, and is about to sign a $20 million (pound;14m) five-year contract is slightly more impressive.

But Mr Amaechi, who grew up in Britain, also loves reading and the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity, has drafted him in to inspire disadvantaged pupils.

Last week the 6ft 9in player spent a day visiting schools in London helped by the trust's "Reading is Fundamental" scheme, which provides books to children in schools in deprived areas around the UK.

Since it was set up five years ago, it has distributed more than pound;1m worth of books to children.

On a visit to Langdon school in Newham, east London, John told a class of 14-year olds about his reading habits: Isaac Asimov, the Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit and the chronicles of Narnia by C S Lwis.

"At the moment I'm reading a book called Metaphors and Hypnosis, and the first of the Harry Potter books because someone bought it for me."

He reads on flights between basketball games around the US and before and after games.

"You can't go out, because people recognise you and it can get scary, so I do a lot of reading in the hotel room," he said.

In further defiance of the macho sportsman stereotype, John Amaechi also writes poetry - and is studying for a PhD in child psychology, which he plans to take up as a career after he retires from basketball.

He is passionate about encouraging reading among children, which makes him an ideal role-model.

"We only ask people who genuinely do love reading to get involved, otherwise it doesn't work, and John is an ideal person to talk about it to children," said Sally Champion, director of the "Reading is Fundamental" scheme.

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