Mendenhall's determination paves way back to basketball court

Noah Mendenhall
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 13, 2018 8:00 am Updated: Jun. 13, 2018 10:10 am

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- All Noah Mendenhall wanted was a number, something tangible to grasp onto during the recovery process.

His doctor didn't exactly oblige.

"I remember asking him, 'Do you want to give me a 1 out of 10 range of me being able to play basketball this year?'" said Mendenhall, the 6-foot Pittsfield quarterback and point guard who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last fall during Week 5 of the football season in a loss to Athens.

"He didn't give me a number, so that's what made me nervous at the beginning. He said, 'Everybody's body is different. You could heal quickly, or you could take a while."

Either way, he knew the recovery process wouldn't easy.

"When I was on that field, I knew something was seriously wrong," Mendenhall said. "I still remember sitting there counting on my fingers the longest I ever heard of someone being out with this kind of thing.

"It scared me. A lot of people say they're out for a whole year. Some say they're out for eight months. I was nervous about that."

Anything longer than four months meant basketball would be out of the question, so he couldn't waste any time.

"The doctor said the first couple of months would be where he makes his decision if he's going to release me or not," Mendenhall said. "That's what I was shooting for, to kind of impress him."

His determination and effort impressed everyone.

Mendenhall drove to Jacksonville every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning for physical therapy, missing his first hour class and occasionally arriving a few minutes late for second hour. It forced him to put in extra time after school and in the evenings to catch up on school work and maintain his GPA.

He never once shirked any of those responsibilities.

"Noah is the kind of kid who will tackle something head on," Pittsfield basketball coach Brad Tomhave said.

All he needed was the green light to go after it.

"All of my teachers were really awesome about it," Mendenhall said. "They were there to support me. They said, 'Hey, if you have time to stay after school, I'll help you out with this.' It was a cool feeling knowing I had a lot of people supporting me."

Still, it was up to him to do the work.

Along with the mandatory physical therapy sessions, Mendenhall did additional workouts on his own.

"I didn't take a day off," he said. "I was always doing something."

That went being in the weight room, on a treadmill or running in a whirlpool every chance he had. Basketball meant too much to him to sit idly by and miss out.

"I remember getting my first basketball," Mendenhall said. "I was like 6 or 7, and I remember my dad bringing it home. It was in a small box, and it was a small ball. I was like, 'All right. Cool.' I started dribbling it out in the garage, and I'd get in trouble dribbling it in the house."

At the time, he didn't have a basketball hoop. It didn't deter him from finding a place to shoot. Above the garage door were a pair of 2x4s spaced just far enough apart for Mendenhall to shoot and hit that spot.

"I would throw it against the wall, and eventually all the insulation started to fall out," Mendenhall said. "Dad finally said it's time to get a basketball hoop."

He hasn't stopped shooting since.

Four months after surgery to repair the torn ACL -- he had no other torn ligaments or structural damage -- Mendenhall returned to the court. He played in the Saukees' final eight games, averaging 13.9 points, and will play at MacMurray next season.

"The dream has been playing ball at the next level," Mendenhall said. "When Coach (Todd) Creel kept talking to me after that, I was pumped. He was still there with me, and I knew if I had a coach still wanting me after that, I found a pretty good place to play ball."

Before that, he gets one last chance to represent Pittsfield when he plays in the 35th annual McDonald's/Herald-Whig Classic on Saturday at Pepsi Arena. Such an opportunity didn't seem possible last September.

"When I found out I was invited, I was real surprised," Mendenhall said. "I remember telling my mom when I was a kid after we went to go watch Jordan Cawthon -- he's my cousin -- play in this game that I'd play in this one day. After the injury, I was little bit nervous, and it was kind of a surprise honestly."

None of his success should come as a surprise.

Through determination and effort, he's earned it.