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Menk's motivation has taken him over the top

Thomas Menk is having a standout start to this season. It's not surpising for the Lewiston-Altura senior forward, after all of the time he's put into his biggest passion, basketball.

Lewiston-Altura, St. Charles Boys Basketball
Lewiston-Altura’s Thomas Menk (23) goes up for a shot during a boys basketball game against St. Charles on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, at Lewiston-Altura High School.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

When Thomas Menk watches film of himself playing varsity basketball as a freshman at Lewiston-Altura, he cringes.

He was a skinny, 6-foot guy who could shoot, but had so little oomph.

But now look: A senior, Menk is 6-4, 192 pounds and grabbing basketballs tossed against backboards by Collin Bonow and hammering them home for two-handed dunks. He’s already had three of those this season.

Times have changed, and those changes have been ever-so satisfying for Menk, a basketball junkie who’s worked endlessly for this new version of himself.

And that film watching from three years ago, it doesn’t just elicit a cringe from Menk, but pride, too.

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“I am physically able to get a lot lower now (on offense and defense) and be more explosive,” said Menk, an all-around star, averaging 28 points and eight rebounds for his 4-0 team, and one of L-A’s top defenders.

“When I watch film of myself when I was a freshman, I was just really slow,” Menk said. “Now, I’m able to slide (side to side defensively) with whoever. I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

Getting after it

Menk got it all accomplished the old-fashioned way, with hard work. There were leg-band stretches to increase his side-to-side mobility, squats and one-legged jumps to become a better leaper, and three days per week of upper-body work in the weight room. It was all part of the picture.

Lewiston-Altura, St. Charles Boys Basketball
Lewiston-Altura’s Thomas Menk waits to be introduced during a boys basketball game against St. Charles on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, at Lewiston-Altura High School.
Traci Westcott/Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Menk’s dad, Lewiston-Altura Athletic Director and former L-A boys basketball coach Brian Menk, was there much of the time, pushing him through many of those workouts and getting lifts in himself.

The two have always had a bond through basketball.

“It began as my love for the game,” said Brian, who was L-A’s boys coach for 12 years before stepping down when Thomas entered seventh grade. “I had hoped that my boys (Thomas and younger brother Isaiah) would be passionate about basketball as well. With Thomas, he developed a definite drive and love for the game at an early age. He never had to be coerced into it.”

The basketball bond that Brian and Thomas built has never let up. They’ve gone on this basketball journey together, not only spending all of that time in the weight room, but even more of it in the gymnasium. Brian has the keys to the Lewiston-Altura gym, something that the Menks have taken full advantage of. That’s happened as Thomas has put up thousands of shots over the years and learned the finer points of the game from Brian.

It’s not just Brian who has worked out Thomas.

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Mrs. Menk — Nichole — has journeyed into the L-A gymnasium hundreds of times herself, ready to rebound for their oldest of two sons.

This has been a true family affair and it’s been coveted.

“It is incredible how much Thomas has poured himself into the game,” Brian said. “He’s been such a student of it and wants to be in the gym constantly. We’ve spent countless hours in there, either he and I, or he and his mom. His mom has rebounded for him more than you could imagine.”

All of it has led to Thomas being one of the top players in southeastern Minnesota and good enough to have committed to play at Division III basketball power St. John’s University in Collegeville, beginning next year.

But his mind rarely drifts to next year, because there is a final high school basketball season to attend to.

Winning start

It’s a season that has begun spectacularly well for him and his team. The Cardinals are 4-0 and riding a Thomas Menk who’s now healthier than he’s ever been.

“Thomas has really rounded his game,” Lewiston-Altura coach Michael VanderPlas said. “He’s still a shooter and he’s gotten even better at that. But now he has an ability to take it to the hoop and finish strong, and he’s got a mid-range and a post-up game. But it’s his defense that has improved most. Now we trust him in matching up against some of the top players in the area.”

One major difference for Menk has been a left knee that had given him pain and trouble since grade school is no longer much of a problem. After a summer’s worth of strengthening that knee and leg, the pain has all but gone away.

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It’s left him feeling and playing like a new person. Menk is now jumping extremely well and also taking the ball to the hoop with abandon, a part of his game he’d not tapped into much in past seasons, with the knee hurting so much.

“My knee really hurt me last year,” Menk said. “But I feel close to 100% now. It’s been awesome, mentally knowing I can attack at full speed now. There is something about knowing that you can just ‘go’ that’s great. It’s made me a lot better.”

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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