Pops Mensah-Bonsu: From King of GW to Ambassador of Europe
June 13, 2012
George Washington men's basketball alumnus Pops Mensah-Bonsu has had quite a year.
Since signing this past December, he has helped his club team - Besiktas Milangaz of Istanbul, Turkey - capture a European treble of continental and domestic crowns.
First, Mensah-Bonsu averaged 16.7 points and 13.0 rebounds to help the club to its first-ever Turkish Cup title in February.
Second, he posted an eye-catching performance to lead the Black Eagles to their first EuroChallenge title in March, highlighted by a whole host of accolades - including Finals MVP, Player of the Year, European Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Forward of the Year.
Then Mensah-Bonsu and Besiktas celebrated the club's first Beko Turkish Basketball League title since 1975 with a 4-2 series victory over Anadolu Efes.
"What Besiktas is doing and has accomplished so far since Pops joined the team is really impressive," said GW basketball alumnus and former Besiktas star Yegor Mescheriakov. "The Turkish Basketball League is one of the top leagues in Europe."
Now Mensah-Bonsu will be returning to the U.S. for a few days, but not to celebrate his championships at Disney World.
He will join the Great Britain Men's National Team in Houston for a series of games at the end of June, and then return to Europe in July in the lead-up to an event no other GW men's basketball alumnus has played in - the Summer Olympic Games.
Barring injury, something he battled back from alongside former GW teammate and fellow European professional Mike Hall last summer, Mensah-Bonsu is a shoe-in to become the first-ever Colonials' player to compete for men's basketball Olympic Gold when the Games commence in London in late July. [Note: Mensah-Bonsu was officially named to Great Britain's Olympic roster on July 5.] He's even become the face of the Great Britain National Team through an Olympic promotional campaign from Subway.
[Note: GW alumnus and Athletics Hall of Fame member J. Dallas Shirley officiated men's basketball events in the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.]
"I'm going to go into camp and just try to set the tone," said Mensah-Bonsu via video chat from Istanbul. "We've got the whole world watching us and we're trying to show the world that British basketball is here to stay - that we have a lot of talent over here and that we belong on this Olympic stage."
Mensah-Bonsu's journey from GW to the brink of the Olympic stage began nearly a decade ago as he joined the Colonials as a freshman in 2002-03. During his four years he helped lead GW to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2005 and 2006, including the program's first Top 10 national ranking in 50 years and a school-record 27-3 mark as a senior in 2006. He became one of the most beloved Colonials of all-time due to his engaging personality and catchy nickname - King Whale Killer - which was the subject of an ESPN feature and garnered him national notoriety.
A year removed from GW in 2007, Mensah-Bonsu appeared set for NBA fame after capturing NBA D-League All-Star Game MVP honors and earning a call-up to the Dallas Mavericks. However, he would spend the next five years moving around the NBA, D-League and Europe, including stints with four more NBA franchises and clubs in Italy, Spain, Russia and France.
Born in Ghana, but raised just outside of London in the suburb of Tottenham, Mensah-Bonsu is no stranger to a life abroad. He cites his time in Foggy Bottom though as a period that shaped his worldly perspective.
"I've pretty much seen most of the world just playing basketball, and I feel like my experience at GW helped me do that," said Mensah-Bonsu. "Meeting different people over the course of my time at GW helped me relate to some of the countries I've been in. It was a great experience for me and it's helped me along the way."
However, Mensah-Bonsu appears to have found a home in Turkey and with Besiktas, with teammates who he says are probably "the closest he has been to" since his days at GW. "The way we're playing, the way we're responding to adversity, the way we're able to stick together in difficult times reminds me of how things were when we were at GW."
"I would like to continue what I started here in Turkey," added Mensah-Bonsu. "My dream has always been to get the right and the perfect opportunity in the NBA, but if that doesn't work I'll have many options in Europe and I would love come back to Turkey and continue to play here."
Offers, potentially from the NBA, will surely head Mensah-Bonsu's way after his wildly successful stint with Besiktas, but his sights are set firmly upon representing his home nation, and his alma mater, in London.
"It is a big deal to know that I would be the first GW men's basketball alum to be in the Olympics and it would be a great honor," said Mensah-Bonsu. "I bleed GW. I bleed Buff and Blue; it's in my heart. I had four great years there and I loved everything about every second that I spent there."
Setting records and making history seems to be a trend for Mensah-Bonsu. With three championship titles already to his credit this season he is one of very few players who can say they had the "perfect season."
"We broke the record for most fans at a basketball game in Turkey a few weeks ago with 18,000 fans. (Winning) the playoffs this year capped what I would call the perfect season," said Mensah-Bonsu.
So what will Mensah-Bonsu do next? Whatever it is will come with the eyes of the world watching at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.