- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pops Mensah-Bonsu spent most of Sunday night waiting inside Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, his flight delayed by stormy weather.

It was another headache — like the cross-country flight to Seattle with his 6-foot-9 frame sandwiched into the middle seat — in a seemingly endless journey the former George Washington Colonial hopes will take him to the NBA.

The tens of thousands of miles the Englishman has logged over the past month have taken a toll. Mensah-Bonsu is weary — tired of the travel and the workouts and interviews he has undergone with 10 teams and in the pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla.

Mensah-Bonsu again will play the waiting game tomorrow night, this time in a Washington hotel instead of a frenzied airport. Family and friends, not frazzled fliers, will surround him. And he will learn his immediate future not on an airport monitor but on the broadcast of the NBA Draft on television.

Mensah-Bonsu will find out if all those airborne miles will be rewarded with a place in the draft.

“I try not to think about it, but in the end it’s all I think about,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I did my part. My destiny is in somebody else’s hand.”

Mensah-Bonsu ranks among a large group of draft prospects with impressive potential, considerable flaws and uncertain futures.

Mensah-Bonsu, for example, could be chosen late in the first round, anywhere in the second round or not at all. Georgetown’s Brandon Bowman, Maryland’s Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray and George Washington’s Danilo Pinnock also are in that category.

Uncertainty is a common theme in this draft.

Higher-profile players such as Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and Andrea Bargnani of Italy are sure to be taken somewhere among the 14 lottery picks. But the next tier and the second round are wide open.

“A player can go anywhere from the 20th pick to the 50th pick, so there are a lot of teams in between,” said Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, whose team worked out Mensah-Bonsu and has the 18th and 48th overall picks. “This is a draft that is hard to call. You have to look at players’ upside and how they could be in two, three years.”

And that’s where a player such as Mensah-Bonsu comes in. He’s not as big as some NBA power forwards, but hasn’t shown he has all the skills to play small forward. However, his athleticism, powerful 230-pound frame and enormous potential intrigue scouts.

“I still consider myself a very raw player,” said Mensah-Bonsu, who began playing basketball only in high school and averaged 12.6 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. “I have a few years until I can reach my potential.”

That’s why Mensah-Bonsu has been traveling the country. His goals were twofold: prove he still is the same athletic specimen he was before undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Feb. 28, and show he has the necessary skills — particularly a mid-range jump shot — to play both forward spots after a college career in which he played exclusively at center.

Mensah-Bonsu thinks he can be a player in the style of the Phoenix Suns’ Shawn Marion or the Dallas Mavericks’ Josh Howard: an agile small forward who runs the court well, guards both forward positions and scores off offensive rebounds. He also thinks his strong work ethic, his degree in psychology and his exemplary role as a teammate give him some intangibles.

Mensah-Bonsu’s Seattle-based agent, John Greig, thinks a lot of teams will try to trade down and out of the end of the first round, where players automatically earn three-year contracts guaranteed for millions. In contrast, second-round picks are not guaranteed anything.

“Why would you pick a guy in the 20s [there are 30 first-round picks] and have a guaranteed contract when you could get him 20 picks later?” Greig said. The agent called Mensah-Bonsu an “enigma” to many teams and hopes the constant traveling, workouts and team interviews will make them comfortable enough to select his client.

Mensah-Bonsu played so well in the Orlando camp that three more teams — the Toronto Raptors, the Atlanta Hawks and the San Antonio Spurs — invited him for expenses-paid visits.

“A lot of teams don’t know what they are going to do,” said Marty Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting. “[Mensah-Bonsu] is a big strong guy that goes to the basket. He is very physical. Sometimes he even makes his jumper. … He can go anywhere. All it takes is one guy to like him.”

Mensah-Bonsu is confident he has found that “one guy,” even if he has no idea who he might be. Several teams have told him they would take him later in the second round but don’t expect him to be there.

“They could be blowing smoke,” he said. “They are definitely pretty cagey. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

However, he is confident he will hear his name tomorrow and not have to take the undrafted free agent route.

Instead, he hopes to become what is believed to be the first player of Ghanan decent to be drafted. Mensah-Bonsu will hold what he expects to be a celebratory draft party — after which he finally can turn in his frequent-flyer card and begin his NBA career.

“It’s been hectic,” he said. ” I have to write where I have gone since I have been in so many places. I am not complaining, but I wouldn’t say it has been fun. It’s more business than anything. It is kind of hard for me to enjoy it. I am going to enjoy it Wednesday night.”

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