Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with basketball star Eric Boateng...
For the first time since 1948, a Great Britain men’s basketball team will be stepping out on the court at the Olympics in 2012.
Ranked 43rd in the world currently, it would be a major surprise if they were able to land a medal at the Games, though they are buoyed by the inclusion of NBA’s Chicago Bulls star and Arsenal fan Luol Deng in their emerging squad.
Fellow Arsenal supporter, 25 year-old centre Eric Boateng, is another of the team’s stars, who currently plays his club basketball with Greek side Peristeri in Athens.
The south London-born player was included in coach Chris Finch’s 12-man squad for the recent EuroBasket championship in Lithuania, where Great Britain managed to secure its first match victory at the prestigious tournament.
You moved to Athens to join Peritseri. How have you been settling in Greece?
As a basketball player, you move around a lot so it’s just part and parcel of the game. I’m still getting to know Greece and Athens obviously, but it seems a great place to be. I’m certainly very excited about the fact that my team, Arsenal, played here so soon after I arrived!
How did you become an Arsenal fan?
My dad supported Arsenal so I think that’s why I started liking them. I have always been a huge fan, especially as a kid when I literally used to dream of playing for the Club. My idols were Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, and Ian Wright and I have so many fond memories of watching the Gunners, especially under Arsène Wenger.
Did you go to Highbury when you were younger?
I never had chance to watch a game at Highbury sadly, but I did go there to play in a school football competition where the final was held. It was amazing to be on the pitch – something every Arsenal fan would want to experience. The whole occasion was phenomenal.
Have you been to Emirates Stadium yet?
I have indeed, though only on one occasion as I’ve been living outside of the UK for the majority of the time they’ve played there. When Arsenal initially moved in, I was still at St Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware in the United States. My one and only game was a pre-season Emirates Cup game against Juventus, which a mate of mine got tickets for when I was back in London for a visit in 2008. Arsenal lost 1-0 but it was still a great experience to see such great players in action and be inside our home stadium for the first time rather than watching on TV.
How easy is it to follow Arsenal living outside of the UK?
It’s easy to keep in touch with what is going on via the internet, plus the Premier League is such a massive league and is broadcast all across the world on TV anyway. I was able to watch Arsenal in the States and now in Greece on TV. I even managed to see the Manchester United v Arsenal game last season in Latvia. I also get stuff from the Arsenal club shop now and again like DVDs and still get sent shirts for my birthday from family members who know what a big fan I am.
What is the best thing about being an Arsenal supporter?
Lots of things really. They play exciting football, the supporters are passionate and we have a great manager in Arsène Wenger. My favourite all-time player would have to be Ian Wright but Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp are right up there too. Thierry Henry was also so exciting with his skill and speed.
How did you get involved in basketball?
I started playing basketball at 14 years old. Up until then I had been playing football. I was a football fanatic but there was a guy who was friends with someone who lived on my road and he realised I was pretty tall for my age, so he recommended that I go to a local recreation club in Brixton and start playing. I started off just watching and then started playing and I kept going back because it was something I really enjoyed.
How are preparations for the Olympics coming along?
Yeah, pretty well I think. We had our summer campaign last year where we played in the European championships (EuroBasket) in Lithuania where we won two and lost three. It was a unique experience to compete at that high level and we are definitely getting better. Those wins were our first wins in the European Championships, which is a very big achievement. EuroBasket saw the Great Britain squad spend eight or nine weeks together and we all get on really well. There are lots of big personalities in the team but we gel well and we have fun. That bodes well for 2012.
What is it like representing your country at basketball?
It’s a dream come true to represent my county – an achievement I hold close to my heart. Support is growing for the sport and awareness is growing and it’s a great feeling to be able to put on a GB basketball jersey. It’s a special feeling and something I love to do and will never take for granted.
Do you think winning a medal at the Olympics could be possible?
We are obviously there to compete for medals, but more than anything we want to make the country proud of us. We want to do really well and a medal would be great but we also want to compete at a really high level and keep GB basketball moving in the right direction. Just being part of it is a big thing – playing in our own country is very special and we want our country to get behind us.