In an exclusive interview, Pops Mensah-Bonsu unveils the trauma of entering the proving ground of NBA training camp as he begins his quest to secure his future with the New Orleans Hornets.
Four weeks to make the cut.
Four weeks to fulfil the ambition.
Four weeks to give everything and leave nothing.
Four weeks of sweat, toil and tension until the decision is made.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu has been here before and has the training t-shirt to prove it. In prior stints with Dallas, Toronto, San Antonio and Houston, he has arrived in the hope of becoming a fixture and making a home, only to be spurned and cast adrift to seek another job and another pay packet.
And now he has landed in New Orleans where the Hornets have offered the Great Britain forward a non-guaranteed contract as they open training camp ahead of the new NBA season. Once more, the Londoner must prove himself. And wonder if, this time, it will be different, that he might stick around, that there might be a need for his raw athleticism and uncanny radar for an available rebound.
“It’s a great opportunity but I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself,” Mensah-Bonsu told MVP.
“I’m 27-year-old now and I’ve been at this stage before. I’m a bit older and wiser. But I have a chip on my shoulder and when I played for GB in the summer, it definitely helped that I was playing with a bit of anger. It made me focus in a little more and it made sure I brought the same intensity to every game. I just wanted to show the best of my abilities. I did that this summer. And I want to continue to do that.”
In truth, he would not even be in Louisiana had his previously agreed deal with Caja Laboral Baskonia not fallen through two weeks ago. The ACB champions cut ties after medical tests confirmed a pre-existing knee problem, which had been widely known about in European basketball circles.
Still, as the leading rebounder in this summer’s Eurobasket qualifiers, the complaint has had no visible effect. “I feel it was a blessing in disguise that things didn’t work out in Spain,” Mensah-Bonsu claimed.
One door closes and another opportunity opens up. “And I have to grab it with both hands. It’s a great chance for me to make the team and get some very decent minutes.”
As a three-season NBA veteran, if the British star makes the grade, he is understood to have a contract worth around £500,000 on the table. It is comparable with what he earned with CSKA Moscow in an ill-fated four-month stint last term where he saw only sporadic playing time in a conflict between coach and management.
Statistically, Mensah-Bonsu’s best spell came at the outset of last year in an eight-game spell with the D-League’s Austin Toros, where he averaged 26.6 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game until his call up by the Spurs.
Memories are long. Hornets GM Dell Demps held the same role with the Toros during the Londoner’s residence there. “So he knows what I can do,” he underlined. “He knows what to expect of me and I know what he expects from me.
“I have to just go out there and provide that and hope everything will fall into place. I have this opportunity to play with a guy like Chris Paul, who will make me better. I want to be in the NBA but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. It’s just time to play.”
Around the NBA over the next four weeks, we will see dozens just like Mensah-Bonsu, scrapping in every practice, pushing themselves to the limit in every minute of action granted, showcasing their wares like eager travelling salesmen attempting to win over the most sceptical customers of all.
The GB star knows the audition process is a lottery. Better than him have been shown the exit. Ultimately, with an 18-strong roster at present, the Hornets will ditch at least three accomplished players by the end of camp with Pops – following the trade of Darius Songalia to Philadelphia – competing directly against fellow free agents Joe Alexander, Daryl Watkins, Michael Washington to become David West’s primary back-up.
The Hornets need rebounding. They require energy. But there are no assurances, Tottenham’s finest concedes. He may yet return to Europe with the NBA door shut behind him once more.
“It’s a very good chance but I feel like in the past, my chances were just as good,” he underlined.
“In Houston, I think I fitted in just as well. The situation didn’t work out so you look for another opportunity. I know what people are looking from me. I know how to go about things.
“I just have to produce, leave everything on the floor and be consistent. If I play at a consistent level the whole time I’m here, good things will happen.”
Four weeks to discover if his fate is in New Orleans or at another point on the map.
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