ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt’s fascination with GW senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu was love at first sight, lust at first sound.
During Mensah-Bonsu’s junior year, Van Pelt watched the GW men’s basketball team play Rhode Island on TV. Coincidentally, Mensah-Bonsu had a career-high 25 points and 16 rebounds that game and Van Pelt took an immediate liking to the center’s athletic and energetic style of play.
“It wasn’t just the name,” said Van Pelt, who attended last Saturday’s game against Charlotte in which Mensah-Bonsu did not play due to injury. “It was the combination of the game and the name (that first caught my attention).”
“I’m like ‘I love this dude’s game,’ and then I found ,out what his name was and said ‘That’s just too good to be true,'” Van Pelt said. “This guy is an unbelievable player; talent, energy and his name is Pops Mensah-Bonsu. This is like the perfect storm. A love affair was born.”
Soon thereafter, Van Pelt began mentioning GW and Mensah-Bonsu from time to time during broadcasts of the nightly sports highlight show he frequently hosts.
With GW’s program slowly rising from obscurity, the University appreciated any publicity it could get – even if it was just a brief mention of a score – and contacted Van Pelt to thank him and send him some Colonials merchandise.
“(His publicity) has helped us immensely,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I think him being a fan and pushing for us on ‘SportsCenter’ has given us a little more exposure than maybe we would have if I did not know him.”
Although Van Pelt is unclear how he initially made direct contact with Mensah-Bonsu, the two started exchanging e-mails late last year, and the contacts became more frequent this season.
“During the season, it’s been kind of a weekly thing,” Van Pelt said. “Before a game, I’ll call him and tell him ‘Hey, don’t go on the road and lose to some crummy team.'”
Van Pelt, a University of Maryland alumnus, said he has only corresponded with Mensah-Bonsu and head coach Karl Hobbs, and that once Mensah-Bonsu graduates after this season, he will renounce his allegiance to the Colonials.
“I’m married to Maryland, so I’m kind of cheating on my wife, and I don’t want to go too overboard,” Van Pelt said. “There’s a bunch of guys on the team whom I enjoy watching play and like the way Coach Hobbs coaches, but for me it’s sort of a momentary fling with this particular team whom I’ve sort of gotten to know through watching them play.”
Despite his obligation as a journalist to be objective, Van Pelt does not believe his personal relationship with a particular player is looked at as inappropriate by his employer or fans, especially because he is so open about it. He says that if he has any agenda, it is not hidden.
“If I did this about Maryland, I think people would have a problem,” he said. “But I’m far more over the top about GW and Pops on the air than I ever would be about Maryland and nobody cares. They know I’m just having fun and it’s something I really enjoy.”