Pops feels responsibility for youth

25 July 2012 / 16:57

For Pops Mensah-Bonsu, success for Great Britain's Olympic basketball team will not just be measured on the court over the next fortnight, but on the streets of the host city for a generation.

The 28-year-old watched in disbelief last year as the Tottenham streets where he grew up burned during the London riots.

These Olympics are a chance for British Basketball to sell one of the world's most popular team sports to a sceptical public, but Mensah-Bonsu is on a broader mission to show how it can provide a different way forward for London's youth.

"Seeing that whole event play out on TV hurt my heart," Mensah-Bonsu said of the riots. "It was really difficult to watch because I grew up right behind that police station where the riots started. Those events showed me how big a responsibility we have. We owe it to the younger generation to give them an avenue to get out of that type of life."

Although basketball has taken Mensah-Bonsu around the world, with time spent playing in the NBA, as well as Italy, Spain, Russia, France and Turkey, his north London roots remain deep.

Asked if he knew people directly affected by the riots, he said: "Yes, I was. My parents' church is right there on the High Road and they burned cars there, they burned buildings down where I used to go. Where I would buy my bus pass, buy my sweets, those newsagents aren't there any more."

Mensah-Bonsu's route out came when he started playing basketball with the Hackney White Heat under legendary coach Joe White, who also helped start the career of Great Britain captain Drew Sullivan.

Although not every kid who takes up the game can aspire to a professional career, Mensah-Bonsu believes the growth of an urban sport can only help inner-city communities.

"I definitely feel like we hold the future of British Basketball in our hands," he said of this Olympic squad. "If we can have some sort of success in these Olympics, the notoriety will come, the funding will come, and fan support will come.

"I feel like it's my responsibility to give that guidance to the younger generation so that in 16 or 20 years somebody else can sit here and say, 'If it wasn't for what that 2012 team, we wouldn't be here.' It's a big responsibility, but we accept it."