Mensah-Bonsu: London will get a Euroleague team
Exclusive! Team GB Olympic basketball star Pops Mensah-Bonsu has predicted London will get its own Euroleague team in the foreseeable future and says he'd jump at the chance to play for them.
The vastly experienced Londoner has been a top player in Europe for most of his career, playing for elite clubs in places as diverse as Russia, France, Italy, Turkey and currently in Spain with Cajasol Sevilla - while he also competed for five team different teams in the NBA.
Despite such a globe trotting career, Mensah-Bonsu is still only 29, and he says he dreams of playing professional basketball in his hometown.
Speaking to Eurosport as he promotes this year's Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four which will be held in the English capital for the first time next month, Mensah-Bonsu said: "For me, having a Euroleague team in London would be great, If there was a team here that was able to compete I would love to come play for them, to finish my career with them, that would be perfect.
"I also see it as something that's more than just possible, I definitely see it happening.
"With the right backing and funding, I already know the talent is there and that we can compete with the best if we can put a British-led team together.
"I just feel like it has to be done, it is the next step that has to happen and hopefully having the Final Four in Britain will show potential backers the type of support the game here can generate."
The Euroleague is essentially basketball's equivalent of the Champions League and, like in football, teams can qualify by finishing strongly in their domestic leagues.
However, recently the league has started awarding 'A licenses' to some of the bigger, better run clubs, guaranteeing them qualification to the competition.
The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce all have such licenses, and if a well-backed British team was to enter the league, they would be given such a license allowing them to compete with the best straight away despite the rude state of the domestic game.
For a British side to be competitive in the competition an annual budget of around £7 million looks like being a minimum investment, although the big clubs in Spain and Russia in particular, work off much larger budgets.
"The strength of basketball in the UK is that we have the talent and a young generation that wants to participate in the sport," said Mensah-Bonsu
"But one of the difficult things is we don't have the government backing or support in place to develop those players but I'm sure 'if we build it, they will come'.
London mayor Boris Johnson was at the launch of this year's Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four – which will be held from May 10-12 - and which will also feature a Fan Zone, complete with weather proof basketball court, in the middle of Trafalgar Square for the duration of the weekend.
"London is proud to be hosting the prestigious Euroleague finals, another testimony to this city's status as a top flight venue for elite fixtures. I am also pleased to welcome the free Fan Zone to Trafalgar Square giving everyone the chance to have a go at this great sport," said Johnson.
"Last year's Olympic and Paralympics Games has already given basketball a bounce in popularity from professional to grassroots level. This summer, the London Lions are due to move into the magnificent Copper Box venue on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and we are also seeing huge interest through the London School of Basketball."
An expected crowd of 16,000 people are expected to pack into the O2 for each of the matches and Mensah-Bonsu, who played in the 2010 Final Four with CSKA Moscow, says that fans who attend are in for a treat.
"People are going to see the best that European basketball has to offer and I think they'll be surprised just how high the standard is," he said.
"There will be four great games in the O2 while the Fan Zone will allow people who don't get to the games the chance to experience some of the excitement and intensity of the weekend.
"I have played in front of some of these huge European basketball crowds, and having that many people inside can create an insane atmosphere, the fans go crazy showing their support, and it is like nothing else.
"I think we can replicate that in London because whenever Brits get behind a sport, they really get into it, and London is also the perfect venue for the event because it is so diverse that you will have people from the countries competing coming out to support their own teams."