In the same building where Pops Mensah-Bonsu put GW on the national basketball map two years ago, the former Colonial power forward sat in a suit on the Dallas Mavericks’ bench Monday night at Verizon Center, inactive in his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.
How things have changed.
Mensah-Bonsu was literally the big man on campus during his career in Foggy Bottom. He was recognized everywhere he went and the Colonials’ offense ran through his powerful presence in the post. He even had a three-minute ESPN segment produced about his name.
Now, Mensah-Bonsu hopes just to get on the court. He signed a two-year contract with the Mavericks after going un-drafted in the NBA draft, but has only played in one game. Mensah-Bonsu played three minutes for the Mavericks during a blowout win Nov. 21 against the Wizards in Dallas, missing his only shot and recording one rebound.
“I was kind of nervous, the adrenaline was pumping and my heart was going 100 miles an hour, but it felt good to get on the floor in an NBA game,” he said.
He has not played since then and was designated inactive shortly thereafter, meaning he travels and practices with the team, but is not eligible to play during games.
“The competitive spirit in me just wants to play,” Mensah-Bonsu said after the Mavericks’ game against the Wizards in Washington on Monday. “It’s tough sometimes, but at the same time we’re winning and we’re a veteran team, so you have to pay your dues in in order to be successful in this league.”
The game Monday was a homecoming of sorts for the London native, who was dubbed the “Mayor of Foggy Bottom” because he was so popular during his time at GW. During an interview at Verizon Center, local reporters interrupted to congratulate him and Mensah-Bonsu met them with the same wide grin that never left his face when he played for GW. He managed to catch the end of GW’s win at the BB&T Classic Sunday, then stopped by campus to look in on a practice and say hello to the coaching staff before the Mavericks game.
“It was good to see some of the family and friends, but it’s the NBA so we had to keep it moving,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I didn’t get to see them long.”
On Tuesday, Mensah-Bonsu was sent down to the Fort Worth Flyers of the NBA’s Developmental League in order to get the regular playing time he cannot get on the NBA’s best team. He said not playing and having to take a back seat was the hardest adjustment he had to make from college, but playing against stars like Josh Howard, who has taken Mensah-Bonsu under his wing, and Dirk Nowitzki in practice has helped his game.
“It’s like a catch-22,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “If I’m on the bench, I’m watching and practicing with some of the best players in the NBA, but I’m not playing in the game so I don’t get game experience. In the NBDL, it’s not the same type of atmosphere, but I’m playing and I can showcase what I’ve learned. I can see the positive and negative for each.”
For now, Mensah-Bonsu will be joining former GW teammate Mike Hall, now with the Tulsa 66ers, in the Developmental League. Mensah-Bonsu said the two talk frequently online and that he also keeps in touch with former GW standout Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock, who plays for Germany’s Giessen 46ers.
Mensah-Bonsu is not satisfied with simply being a fringe NBA player, someone who goes from team to team as a backup and only sees minutes when the outcome of the game has already been decided.
“I’m not content,” he said. “That’s one of the things that keeps me going – that I always have something to prove or accomplish. I made it to the NBA, which was one of my goals, but now I want to be one of the better players in the NBA, and that’s going to take a little time.”