Basketball: Pops Mensah-Bonsu says Team GB's success will help the sport to grow in Britain


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The Independent Online

The success of the British Olympic basketball team will enable the sport to gain popularity in the UK, according to Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

Team GB face Brazil today, hoping to claim their first victory in the Games after defeat by Russia in their opening match. The hosts knew they would probably need two wins from their remaining four Pool B matches to progress to the last eight.

Russia’s display on Sunday showed the size of the task for Britain, but Tottenham-born Mensah-Bonsu is looking beyond London 2012. The 28-year-old recognises the boost that Olympic achievement has given to other sports and hopes basketball can gain greater prestige here if Great Britain surpass expectations.

“Hopefully we will do well and get the point across to the youth, the Government and the people of Great Britain that there is talent in this country,” said Mensah-Bonsu. “We can work on the grass roots and if we have success, everything will come.

“It’s like the saying, ‘build it and they will come’. I believe basketball is popular among many ethnic minority groups in this country. Britain is a diverse country and London is a diverse city.

“The success in cycling and rowing in the last Olympics had a positive impact on the younger generation and hopefully we can do the same. The domestic basketball leagues are strong in many European countries and we can get to that level.

“We can show young people how much fun basketball is and try to ensure they latch on. I remember growing up and watching teams like London Towers in the 1990s and there was plenty of interest in them. If we can get back to that, or better, we can make the domestic league respectable.

“There have been NBA matches staged in the UK and those things certainly help to attract attention, when you bring the best players here. There was also the game we played against the United States before this Olympic competition.

“That showed everyone what a great sport basketball is and I hope that one day it will start to have the kind of appeal that football and rugby have in this country.”

Mensah-Bonsu plays for Besiktas in Turkey and has also competed in the NBA as well as representing teams in France, Spain, Italy and Russia.

In the game against Russia, he was one of Britain’s best performers alongside Luol Deng. Deng, who plays for the Chicago Bulls, is Great Britain’s most accomplished player, but Mensah-Bonsu’s experience is also a vital element of their campaign.

Deng insisted: “We want to compete with all the teams who are here and I am confident that we have the guys to do it.”

Tom Maher says a lack of experience cost Great Britain women their first ever win in the Olympic basketball tournament. The hosts let a late lead slip against Canada to lose 73‑65 yesterday and coach Maher said: “Those girls haven’t been in that type of situation before.”