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Toronto’s Unsung Player: Pops Mensah-Bonsu

Normally when a player is a late season call-up from the D-League he’s lucky to secure a contract for the remainder of the season.

Luckily for Raptors fans this hasn’t been the case for Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

When Toronto signed him on March 6, he inked a deal for the remainder of the season and he’s been a fan favorite since the minute he hit the court for the Raptors. Between playing gritty defense, grabbing rebounds like they’re going out of style and throwing down nasty dunks, he’s easily won over fans at the Air Canada Centre.

Not only that, but he’s been a big part of the teams recent five-game winning streak.

While he’s shown up on plenty of YouTube highlights, it’s the contributions he’s making to help Toronto secure some wins by doing the little things that’s earning him extended burn.

Still, some of the dunks that he’s thrown down over the past few weeks are nothing short of brilliant and are the kind of dunks which are sure to make him an internet legend this summer. Hoops Addict asked the high flier about some of the nasty dunks he’s been throwing down and if he planned to take it easy on the rims.

No sooner did the question escape my mouth than did a devious grin spread from ear-to-ear on Mensah-Bonsu.

“Never,” Mensah-Bonsu told Hoops Addict when he stopped chuckling. “I try my best to break the rim every time I dunk it. I have yet to do that so I’m going to keep dunking it as hard as I can so I can continue to set a tone with my teammates to have them go to the basket and be aggressive themselves.”

Setting the tone is the perfect way to sum up his contribution to Toronto. It’s his passion and energy on the glass that have helped give the team a much needed boost during a season which has failed to live up to expectations.

While Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion and Andrea Bargnani hog the headlines here in Toronto, it’s usually been the inspired play of Mensah-Bonsu over the past month which has paved the way for some of these big wins.

While many fans grimace at the team being in the midst of a season high five-game winning streak when it’s costing the team ping pong balls, the talented forward understands how important it is for Toronto to end this season on a high note.

“If you go into next season with some signs of life it gives you a positive outlook on things,” Mensah-Bonsu admitted to the media following a big win over Chicago last weekend. “We’d rather end the season well than by losing games, so we’re going to win as many home games as possible and then go on the road and do the best we can.”

It’s been a while since Toronto had a player like this. In fact, the only player who he can be compared to is former fan favorite Jerome “Junk Yard Dog” Williams. Other players like Alvin Williams and Charles Oakley have played tough and with grit, however no one had had the ability to soar through the air for nasty dunks on one end and then turn around and focus on rebounding on the other.

It’s because of this that fans have rallied around Mensah-Bonsu as a fan favorite this season.

“The fans respond to stuff like that,” Mensah-Bonsu explained to Hoops Addict. “That’s just my game and the way I play. My teammates respond to it as well. It gets them hyped. It gives them energy and excitement so I just try to bring it as much as possible.”

It’s not only the fans who are getting behind of Mensah-Bonsu, it’s become clear the coaching staff and front office are quickly being won over as well. While he’s only signed for the remainder of the season, general manager Bryan Colangelo hinted on national television last weekend that he plans to make every attempt to sign him this summer.

When asked about this Mensah-Bonsu was shocked at first, and then burst into another huge grin.

“We haven’t spoken about that. Personally, I’m just trying to focus on what to do for the rest of this year. I’d love to be back here next year and I’d love to make Toronto my home and be a part of this team, it’s crossed my mind, but I won’t really think about it until the season is over. That means a lot to me that he told the media that he would love to have me back. That just makes me feel good and makes want to go out and work harder so that I can be here next year.”

Hopefully for Raptors fans both sides can come to an agreement early in the offseason. However, as we’re reminded of far too often, this is a business and sometimes things don’t work out the way fans, players or even general managers want.

While it’s clear both sides want Mensah-Bonsu back in a Raptors uniform next season, nothing is guaranteed until a contract is signed.

If the team isn’t able to come to terms with Mensah-Bonsu this summer the team will have a hard time finding someone via the draft, free agency or a trade that can match the passion and spark which Mensah-Bonsu provides this team with.

Ryan McNeill
Ryan McNeill has appeared on ESPN Radio, MTV Canada, SiriusXM, The Fan 590 and other radio programs and TV shows. He has covered the NBA with media credentials since the 2007-08 season.
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