NEWCOMER EKPERIGIN KEEN TO MAKE A NAME

When Laurence Ekperigin was selected in Great Britain’s initial squad for EuroBasket, out of left field, the common reaction was ‘Who?’

Born in the grandiose-sounding New York town of Cortlandt Manor, the 23-year-old was a shock inclusion, another product of the talent (and passport) search programme headed by British Basketball’s North America emissary Ron Wuotila.

Landing last weekend in Surrey, the forward – who finished last season with Italian side Biella – was making only his second-ever visit to the country he now hopes to represent on the international stage.

The memories of the first trip, he admits, are short on detail. “So this is going to be a great experience, getting to know the country again,” he reflects. “I’m hoping I can fit in.”

Which begs the ultimate question: how does this bolt from the blue, with an accent so American it oozes root beer and pumpkin pie, come to cross the Atlantic and sport the Union flag?

“My Mom was born in Great Britain, in Hull,” he explains. “And so that’s what gives me citizenship. My agent told me that the team had heard about my passport acquisition and had expressed an interest.

“I’d been working to get it and it came through when I was playing in Korea. And once we let (British Basketball) know, everything moved forward from there.”

Chris Ayer was the other GB new boy but he has been cut (Dan Wooller)

GB coach Chris Finch has said there are more spots open than fixed in his European squad. With Pops Mensah-Bonsu missing – and likely out of action until November – there is a vacancy for a hustler on the boards on the plane to Lithuania.

The auditions begin in earnest on Sunday in a friendly against the Netherlands in Cobham, followed by another low-key tune-up with Nigeria on Tuesday.

Ekperigin, who graduated last summer from Le Moyne College, is quick to state his case. “I play hard,” says the 23-year-old, by way of self-analysis. I rebound, I play defence. I run the floor. That’s what I do. That’s my game for 40 minutes.”

The phone lines from New York to Humberside have been fired up in recent days, he reveals. Mum Jennifer has been re-establishing old links, flagging up her son’s presence in her homeland. She emigrated Stateside at the age of 13. If Laurence ends up in the Olympic Games next summer, she might even be tempted back.

Hold off on such talk, Ekperigin asks. After just one week in the GB programme, just like fellow rookie Chris Ayer, he has been acclimatising to this brave new world. Unlike Ayer, who was cut on Saturday along with Ashley Hamilton and James Jones, he remains. Time will tell, he adds, whether he has enough to embed himself within.

“I just expect to go out and play as hard as I can,” he states. “I want to learn from good players and good coaches. This is my first time doing something like this so I want to get the best out of it I can.

“I think it will help me become a better player because when you go into a new system, it’s different and you pick up things.”

The more, the better if he is to make a name for himself.

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