Nathan Mensah returns to action following health issue

Then-sophomore+forward+Nathan+Mensah+attempts+a+shot+over+a+Texas+Southern+defender+during+the+Aztecs+2019+season+opener+against+the+Tigers+on+Nov.+5+at+Viejas+Arena.+The+game+resulted+in+a+77-42+SDSU+victory.

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Then-sophomore forward Nathan Mensah attempts a shot over a Texas Southern defender during the Aztecs’ 2019 season opener against the Tigers on Nov. 5 at Viejas Arena. The game resulted in a 77-42 SDSU victory.

by Amber Salas, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State men’s basketball is set to take the court Wednesday night against UCLA to open the 2020-2021 season with a defensive presence they deeply missed last season: Nathan Mensah. 

Last season, the Aztecs went on a historical 30-2 run but they missed the presence of Nathan Mensah to provide strength on both ends of the court. Mensah protects the rim with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that allows him to do things for the Aztecs that others simply cannot. 

“Nathan is a difference-maker,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “He’s been a two-year starter in our program, obviously only played 13 games last year but he is a full-go in practice right now.” 

Mensah missed the final 19 games of the season last year due to a health issue that SDSU continually reported as a respiratory issue. Others reported that the 6-foot-10 starting forward suffered a pulmonary embolism, or blood clot in his lung. 

Before being sidelined, Mensah led the team in blocks (22), offensive boards (27) and overall rebounding (6.8). 

Mensah had some of his biggest showings early in the 2019-2020 season. He had 12 points and 12 rebounds against San José State on Dec. 8, as well as 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting against Utah on Dec. 21. He brought a strong defensive performance with 62 defensive rebounds last season. 

The tipping point for Mensah was the Aztecs’ game against Cal Poly on Dec. 28 where he only lasted four minutes in the game before being pulled out due to shortness of breath. 

The following months consisted of Mensah seeing specialists and following the recommendations of the SDSU athletic training staff. Mensah was resilient and was hopeful to make a return for the NCAA Tournament in March. The tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19, giving Mensah more time to recover instead of rushing back into peak basketball season. 

Mensah received full medical clearance in early October. He returns for his junior season with the Aztecs, where he is expected to be one of the starting five yet again. 

Throughout the recovery process, Dutcher said he wanted to proceed with caution to make sure Mensah was fully healthy before returning to the court. 

“The most important thing to all of us is Nathan’s health,” Dutcher said. “So we wanted to be extremely cautious with him and make sure that the doctors did their evaluation and made their recommendations, and with that done it’s great having Nathan back on the floor.”

Mensah has continued to make improvements after returning to the court. After observing him in five-on-five drills, Dutcher said he feels Mensah’s shot blocking abilities will be key for the Aztecs’ defense.

“He’s looking good, he’s improving and so I think he will anchor our defense,” Dutcher said. “He gives us a shot blocking ability that you need to be a good defensive team so it’s great to have Nathan back and to see his progress on the floor.”

Senior forward Matt Mitchell said he thinks Mensah will be a player that Aztec fans can expect to see emerge this season. 

“Last year he proved to be a very big factor for us on the defensive end,” Mitchell said. “I think his offensive game is coming along really well also, and on both sides of the floor he’s going to look to dominate, and I see he can’t do anything less.”

The Aztecs have been scrimmaging against each other to prepare for their season opener against the UCLA Bruins, who were ranked No. 22 in the AP preseason poll. Dutcher saw potential from Mensah in these scrimmages and expects him to have a strong junior season. 

“In our scrimmage last Saturday, I saw something out of Nathan I hadn’t seen yet, which he stepped out of the offense and played his game within it,” Dutcher said. “So what I’m saying is most guys go A to B to C and they do a good job of that. Nathan went A to C, finally. He saw opportunities to attack that we didn’t draw up for him and he made those plays. If he continues to do that he’s going to have a great junior season.” 

Mensah is good to go with no limits for the Aztecs’ season opener against UCLA. Dutcher said Mensah will be treated no different than any other player in terms of a minutes restriction. 

“Just (however long) he can go without fatiguing,” Dutcher said. “And that’s everybody on the team. We haven’t played a full game where we’ve gone two 20-minute halves that you might get in an exhibition game or a closed-door scrimmage. So in that regard, I don’t know if anybody will have really extended minutes.”

A healthy season this year is key for Mensah. In addition to his respiratory issue, hand injuries have also inhibited Mensah in past seasons. 

In his freshman year, Mensah missed preseason practice after straining his middle finger on his left hand. Last summer, Mensah missed time due to surgery on a right thumb injury. The ligament injury occurred over the summer, and surgery took place in August. 

Despite all he has had to overcome to get to this moment, Mensah is ready to take the court this season and contribute to another winning season for the Aztecs. 

Mitchell expects his teammate to come out with a strong showing this year. 

“I think the sky is the limit for Nate,” Mitchell said. “I think that people are keeping him in their rear view mirror and I think it’s time for him to show some light and come to light.”

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