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Nathan Mensah (31) celebrates SDSU’s victory over Creighton 57-56 to advance to the Final 4 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, Sunday, March 26, 2023. (Credit: Derrick Tuskan/SDSU) Nathan Mensah (31) celebrates SDSU’s victory over Creighton 57-56 to advance to the Final 4 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, Sunday, March 26, 2023. (Credit: Derrick Tuskan/SDSU)

Striving ‘To be the Best,’ Nathan Mensah Shines on Court, in Classroom

Aztec forward and SDSU MBA student Nathan Mensah has been recognized both as the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year and a high-achieving scholar-athlete.
By Suzanne Finch

This story first published October 24, 2022


One of the reasons the San Diego State University’s men’s basketball team is expected to do well during the upcoming season is the return of Nathan Mensah. The Aztecs’ 6-foot-10 forward is among the team’s leaders in total rebound percentage (#2), block shots in a career (#3) and in a single game (#2 tie).


Mensah, now a fifth-year senior, was initially unsure about returning this season though he had a year of eligibility remaining. He earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing at SDSU’s Fowler College of Business last spring, but after talking to his family, chose to return for an MBA. 


On the court or in the classroom, he has set high expectations for himself. Mensah has been named an Aztec scholar-athlete four times and is a recipient of a Jim Malik Award for spring 2020. The Malik Award goes to SDSU student-athletes who achieve 4.0 GPAs in a semester. 


“I always strive to be the best whether it’s playing basketball, school and everything else that I do,” he said.


His role as an outstanding collegiate student-athlete was never something he aspired to during his childhood in Accra, Ghana. Mensah didn’t consider playing basketball, he spent his youth playing soccer. But after a growth spurt in his early teens, his cousin advised him to switch sports and he was an immediate success. 


On his first plane ride to America, Mensah, then 15, realized he wasn’t sure of his fate. 


“I was excited for the opportunity, but I had a lot of questions and I wondered if I made the right move,” said Mensah, whose family remained in Ghana. “Once I landed in New York, I met my first high school basketball coach and he put me at ease with my decision.”


While attending high school in Massachusetts, Mensah began thinking about the possibility of attending college. 


“SDSU began recruiting me during my sophomore year of high school and Coach (Brian) Dutcher made me feel like family,” said Mensah. “I also wanted to play someplace with nice weather.”


After completing high school in Nevada, Mensah arrived at SDSU hoping to achieve success both academically and athletically. He was off to a good start: As a first-year student, he played in all 34 of the Aztecs’ regular-season and postseason games and was named an Aztec Scholar-Athlete for the first time. 


Mensah faced a situation in his sophomore year that not only threatened his basketball career but also his life. 


In a game against Cal Poly on December 28, 2019, Mensah felt short of breath and made an early exit. It was the last game he would play for the rest of the season. That night, he was coughing up blood and was hospitalized. He spent the next two days being treated for a blood clot in the lung. 


Mensah, who had never missed a game, planned to sit on the Aztecs’ bench in street clothes for the game against Fresno State on New Year’s Day. But by game time, he wasn’t able to make it to Viejas Arena. 


“I couldn’t get out of my bed until the second half,” he told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter. “I couldn’t walk without getting tired easily. I couldn’t use the stairs. It took 20 minutes to walk from my apartment to Viejas. It usually takes five.”


He maintained good grades during this time, but his return to the court was questionable. Mensah spent the off-season rehabbing and studying, and returned to play in the Aztecs' 2020-21 season opener. It was like he’d never left: He set career-highs in several categories and finished the season being named to the Honorable Mention All-Mountain West team and the Mountain West All-Defensive Team; he was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and made his second appearance in the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.


Mensah plans a career in marketing in the financial services industry and he’s gaining valuable experience through an internship at the San Diego office of Concurrent, a national wealth management company. 


“I chose to earn a degree in marketing because as a basketball player, you have to market yourself,” he said. “I also thought that marketing would be a good degree to pursue once I’m done with basketball.”


But for now, Mensah is happily concentrating on maintaining good grades, continuing his internship, and dreaming about propelling the Aztecs deep into the NCAA Tournament. 


“I’m very content with where I am right now,” he said. “I’m hoping this will be the best year I’ve ever had.”