If the mark of a big-time Division I program is its ability to produce NBA-caliber players, GW never quite made the cut – until now.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock could become the first GW alumni in the NBA since Yinka Dare’s last season in 1998. Although they are not guaranteed playing time or even a spot on their team’s 12-man roster, they said they expect to see time at some point during the year. Pinnock, who was drafted 58th overall by the Dallas Mavericks and traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, said he believed a contract was “in the mail,” set to arrive on Monday.
John Black, the executive director of public relations for the Lakers, said no contract has been drafted to retain Pinnock for training camp.
Daniel Servick, Pinnock’s agent, said negotiations are ongoing but he is confident an agreement will be reached.
“They made the trade to get him, so I would anticipate something would come about with that,” Servick said in a phone interview Monday. “Nothing has been signed and nothing was sent.”
Servick would not say if they were in negotiations with any European teams.
Mensah-Bonsu signed a contract after going undrafted in June. The 6-foot-9 forward caught on with the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team and signed a contract with the organization for the rookie minimum of $412,718 in early August.
The duo earned their respective spots by playing in NBA summer leagues in Las Vegas and Long Beach, Calif.
“In the NBA, everyone is very talented and it’s a much quicker game,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “You have to play at a high level every time you come on the floor.”
Both players have also had to adjust to playing new positions. While Mensah-Bonsu played mostly power forward and center against undersized Atlantic 10 players, he will likely play small forward in the NBA.
Pinnock, who was a swingman in college, said he anticipates playing point guard in the Lakers’ triangle offense under famed coach Phil Jackson.
“It’s definitely a different style of play in L.A. compared to what we played in GW,” Pinnock said. “At GW we got up and down, running and gunning. With the Lakers we kind of slow it down and make sure we set up everything in the triangle.”
Style of play is one adjustment Mensah-Bonsu will not have to make. The Mavericks are known for playing a similar up-tempo style to GW, one that requires speed and agility from all positions.
Both said GW coach Karl Hobbs prepared them well for their post-GW lives on and off the court. Although Pinnock will be playing a different style of basketball in Los Angeles, he said Hobbs’ teachings allowed him to focus on what is important.
“GW definitely prepared me as a person, more so than as a basketball player because it’s such a different style of play,” Pinnock said. “Coach Hobbs’ main goal is to make his players better people, and he definitely did that and helped me understand the bigger picture.”
“Coach Hobbs knows how to prepare players and tell them what they need to know for the NBA,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “He would tell us what we would have to learn and do if we wanted to have a shot at the NBA. I picked up on it freshman year and it’s become second nature to me.”
Mensah-Bonsu said he’s beginning to develop new aspects of his game to compete with the new level of talent in the NBA.
“I’m working out with the team and the coaches in Dallas every day, working on my jump shots and my off-the-dribble moves – just showing them that I can do some more things than being a utility guy,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I can score, I can put the ball on the floor, I can play some other positions. In a year or two, I should be a lot more of a refined player.”
Playing in the NBA, Pinnock and Mensah-Bonsu said, is a lifelong dream, but it’s not home for the players.
“The Smith Center is always going to be home,” Pinnock said. “The Staples Center is obviously a lot bigger and really nice, but I’ll always love playing in the Smith Center. Maybe in the future Pops and I will have something there.”
Pinnock said Los Angeles has welcomed him quickly. During summer leagues in California, he said he was the third most popular player behind first-round picks Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar. Mensah-Bonsu said he is quickly renewing a role that earned him the nickname “Mayor of Foggy Bottom.”
“I’ve seen a couple people around town that said they knew me from college and said they were happy to have me on the team and they think I can help them,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “For people to come up to me on the street in another state when I haven’t even played a game yet – I can’t wait for the season to start.”
-Jake Sherman contributed to this report