The sound of the waves in the background serves as a backdrop to the flying sand and sweat. The two young men wearing San Diego State shorts are working through footwork drills with the beautiful backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. It is just another workout in San Diego for Joel and Nathan Mensah, but that hard work and sacrifice says more about them than people know.
Both Joel and Nathan Mensah (unrelated) came from Ghana, discovered by the Royalties Academy in Accra, Ghana. With the help of Kwaku Amoaku, founder of the African Youth Basketball Organization, the Mensah boys arrived to the United States with the dream of one day supporting their families through the game of basketball. After a couple stops the boys made their way out west, Joel Mensah landed at JSerra High School in San Juan Capistrano, California, while Nathan Mensah finished his high school career at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada.
The sacrifice of leaving their family to pursue a dream that is elusive for most people was an opportunity that they could not pass up. Both boys gave up a lot, memories with their family that they can never get back, for a chance at a better life and as they prepare for their freshmen seasons at San Diego State, they remain focused on the goals ahead. There are the immediate goals, playing time, helping the team win, proving their worth, and a trip back to the NCAA tournament, among other things. These things do not just happen; they take hard work and sacrifice, words that Joel and Nathan Mensah know too well.
Everybody knows that to play Division I basketball the hard work never stops. What exactly happens when the buzzer sounds after your last game in high school? Well for these two young men the grind did not end. After their last game their first order of business was to finish school and clear up their amateur status with the NCAA. As foreign-born players this was a bit difficult, as paper work has to arrive from the proper authorities overseas. It is never as simple as pressing send on an email. Once both boys graduated from high school the basketball work became their sole focus. Joel Mensah stayed in Orange County, California, working out during the summer until it was time to come down to San Diego State for the second semester of summer school. Nathan Mensah came down to San Diego after he finished school and worked on his game here until his paperwork was ready, which allowed him to enroll in the university.
Both boys worked out nearly every day during the summer, five to six times a week. Upon arriving on campus they got into their dorms, which are near each other, and continued their work together. Having each other as a support allows them to push and keep each other accountable. Now they are in a comfortable place, accepted into the Aztec family and building bonds with their teammates, especially with players like Aguek Arop and Ed Chang who both are of African descent. Having Amoaku close also helps, as he is a mentor to the two.
The place where the two feel most comfortable is on the court. Since arriving at San Diego State the two have worked on their free time. They have spent time working with some former Aztecs in the JAM Center under the tutelage of Jim Thompson of 3Point Play. Thompson has noticed the same drive and hunger from both Mensahs that we have spoken about.
“I'm impressed with their hunger to get better and their current capacity for attention to detail.”
While the work has never really stopped the next step in their journey is coming up soon. Team workouts have already begun, however team practices are up next, followed by the season. Both had relatively quiet senior seasons in high school and people may have forgotten how good both guys are. In his short time working with them, since mid-July, Thompson has gotten a sense of where they are and offered a quick analysis on them.
“Both are obviously gifted athletes, and highly skilled. Both have tremendous upside and I believe their versatility will make an immediate impact for the Aztecs on both ends of the floor.”
The road to college was full of sacrifice: fortunately for the Aztecs the journey for Joel and Nathan Mensah led them to San Diego State. Their freshman season should be an impactful one for both as the frontcourt has minutes available to them. Their role and game will grow over the years and both guys will be solid contributors on offense and defense.
Watch as the sand kicks up at every jump and turn. Listen to the sound of bodies banging in the post. Feel the determination, hunger, and intensity of the two young men from Ghana with goals that once seemed like a dream. This upcoming season will be a testament of hard work that began in Accra long ago. The next chapter begins soon and it is titled “Joel and Nathan Mensah: Freshman Season.”