Eric Boateng doesn’t turn 26 until November. That doesn’t mean he’s not a member of Great Britain’s veteran club.

The Londoner still retains his boyish face and that playful enthusiasm we first saw in his teens when he was just a kid, playing at Brixton, wondering what might be. One year out of college in Arizona, he still has the rough edges of any rookie, working his way up the ladder, discovering on which rung he really belongs.

Yet the 6’10” forward has looked a more mature incarnation in GB colours this summer than ever more, his appearance just as likely to present intense concentration as a smile. He is, almost incredibly, one of the few survivors of the team’s inaugural campaign in European Division B of 2006, when thoughts of featuring in major tournaments – the Olympics included – still seemed far far away. He got a DNP in the very first competitive game, against Slovakia. As Chris Finch’s side prepare to pack for Lithuania, that no longer seems his likely fate.

“It was a new experience for me, my first year playing professionally,” he recalls of a season where his time, after a pre-season flirtation with the NBA, was divided between Idaho and Austin.

“I had a good camp with Denver – that was a good experience. I went into the D-League and I tried to just immerse myself and learn as much as possible. I feel like I came out a different player than at the beginning. I felt I learnt a lot of about myself and the game, which can only help me this summer and beyond. I just have to continue to get better and work and learn.”

Critics have bemoaned that his college career – which stalled at Duke and declined to truly ignite at Arizona State – had not advanced his raw talent as much as it deserved. His D-League numbers were far from spectacular. Yet in recent weeks, in Britain’s series of friendlies, there have been more flashes than ever of the potential within.

Boateng has elevated this summer (Map Photos)

That he survived camp with the Nuggets last autumn until the final cuts suggested that he could hold his own in better company. A certain lock in Finch’s 12-man squad (and a potential starter if Dan Clark’s injury rules him out), he has shown new-found offensive skills and visible defensive smarts.

Whatever it takes, he says. He has a mission statement, of sorts. “Making a positive impact in any game that I play, where it’s on the defensive end, the offensive end, my whole role is to push GB closer to a win. Whatever I have to do to make that happen, I’ll be focused on.”

With trust comes responsibility. Where he was once a boy among men, this is set to be the youngest GB squad he will have known. Names like Andrew Lawrence were not supposed to make it but they will. Even the likes of Ogo Adegboye and Matt Bryan-Amaning, two others on the bubble, are fresh out of university and with a lot to learn.

The vibe has changed. “We have a lot of younger guys coming through the system,” Boateng observes. “But we also have veteran guys who have been there for a couple of years. We’re at the point now where we know each other well, we all get a long and I enjoy spending time with my team-mates. I feel lucky I have that.”

He has readily taken on a mentoring role, perhaps a more subtle one than Drew Sullivan, Luol Deng and Robert Archibald but a still vital presence as GB prepares for its second successive EuroBasket – and the daunting prospect of an opener next Wednesday against the hosts, as well as planning to face Portugal who took the group’s vacant spot after finishing second to Finland in the additional qualifying tournament.

“There is definitely responsibility when you’re an older guy to firstly do the right things, and then be at your best, so the younger guys can follow by example,” he states.

“You have to be available to give advice. The younger guys don’t have to necessarily approach you. You can give encouragement or spot things ahead of time. It’s about finding the right balance.”

The late arrival of Deng, his fellow Brixton alumnus, has meant a more intense final week of practice in Surrey than either the coaching staff or players would have sought. The offense is being fully installed. Some of the new faces will get to learn the nuances of the Chicago Bulls forward, and where he will be at his most effective.

“I feel like, for those who have been here, the approach has been that of being serious about what we’re doing, being committed and concentrated. Since Luol has come it hasn’t been any different,” Boateng reveals.

“We actually had two practices with Luol (at the Olympic venue). There was just an issue of us continuing to work on what we do. We have to prepare and develop but it’s been fine with Luol coming.”

Last week’s tournament at the Olympic Park was a learning experience for all. Finch, pragmatic as a realist, was quick to point out the futility of defeat, despite the plaudits. There were too many mistakes and break-downs. Boateng – who remains a free agent and undecided on which side of the Atlantic he might spend next season – has enough knowledge of the international stage, and of the opponents awaiting next week, to ascertain that there is no margin for such errors.

“We have to be more composed,” he acknowledges. “We have to be focused on the game plan, which Coach Finch gives us. We learnt a lot about ourselves when we were at the Olympic centre so we can use our experience. I think the key to our competition last week was to draw from our experience.

“Our hope is to use that as a stepping stone to make us better – and to learn from it.”

That has become Boateng’s calling card this summer. No longer the innocent, Britain needs him to step up. I’m ready, he says. So must everyone else be.

“It’s a tough group. We are just going to have to be more prepared and focused than ever. The guys are aware of that. We have to give our best effort, for 40 minutes, in every game.”

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