ISU job takes Mennenga to 'Basketball Heaven'

After spending 10 years on the East Coast, Mike Mennenga returns to his Midwestern roots as Iowa State's newest assistant coach.

Mike Mennenga has all of his bases covered. After assisting at the University of Buffalo the last five seasons, Mennenga joined the ISU men's basketball coaching staff this May. When he moved into his new office at Hilton Coliseum there were three items there and they're still in the same place today.


There's a picture of former ISU legendary coach Johnny Orr on the ledge of a dry erase board, on his desk a hard hat sits in the corner and above his desk is a picture of football great Jack Trice.


"That picture of Johnny Orr was there the first day I got here and I haven't moved it, something told me to leave it alone," Mennenga said. "Those three items will never move."


Mennenga began his coaching career at the University of Maine before going to Buffalo; he said his new job at Iowa State has taken him to ‘basketball heaven.'


"The people are passionate and I'm surrounded by people that are passionate about their jobs like I'm passionate about my job," Mennenga said. "I'm surrounded by fans and people in the community that are passionate about their team. I'm surrounded by talented players that are hungry for more and more success and they want to build on the success they've established here."


A native of Rantoul, Illinois, Mennenga always wanted to return to his Midwest roots.


"I think this is one of the most storied basketball traditions in the nation," he said. "So I think any young assistant coach that is looking to strive for a highest level of success and Iowa State would be at the top of the pecking order for any opportunities in a sense this was easy for me. It's more on Coach Morgan to see if I was the guy who would fit his needs and I was blessed with this opportunity."


After spending the last 10 years on the East Coast, Mennenga kept on running into ISU head coach on Wayne Morgan. Mennenga said Morgan has an unbelievable recruiting and coaching reputation on the East Coast and the two ‘just clicked' and both shared the same direction for this program.


"Now as of recently Iowa State has really broke some foundation and some ground with players going from the East Coast to Iowa State," Mennenga said. "So as I'm running my turf as a Maine Black Bear and a Buffalo Bull crossing all these same paths we always kept on crossing paths."


Mennenga said he wasn't always sure where his path was going to lead too, but it couldn't have led him to a better place.


"I'm thinking in the long run I pretty much surrendered to the thought that you never know where the basketball bounces," he said. "Sometimes the basketball bounces like a football, you never know where it's going to take you.


"Getting a little bit closer to home and kind of getting the best of both worlds and looking back I wouldn't have it break any other way. The experience of going from Illinois to Maine to Buffalo and just developing that network has been priceless and now all of a sudden you develop that network and you combine that with your home roots and your foundation and you can have a pretty powerful component."


Mennenga played basketball for a year at the University of Nevada, but it wasn't the right spot for him. He transferred to a a junior college and then finished up his studies at Morehead State University. He said he always keeps in mind his experiences as a player when relating to his players today.


"I was a good player but the experiences I have as a player are far more playing out as a coach," he said. "You take the good experiences and the bad experiences and now you apply them and say ‘hey I never try to lose sight of what it was like when I was playing.'"


Mennenga is a natural as a coach; he said he was ‘born with a basketball in his crib.' His dad was a coach and siblings all played sports, so he was always around competition and learning about the game.


"First of all this comes really easy to me," he said. "This is not a job, it's a lifestyle. I think this business has a tendency that the guys who take this on as a job are going to get beat by the guys who have the same mindset as me.


"We're going to beat those guys in the end, the phone is open 24/7, 365 days a week and we love to do it."


Mennenga and his wife Shannetta have a daughter, Cheyenne who is 21 months; Mennenga said she's also got basketball in her blood.


"She's the future of the WNBA if we can keep it going," he said. "By the time she gets there she's going to turn the place out."


This summer Mennenga was brought back a few years when him and Eric Brown shared an apartment. The two spent time watching every ISU game from last season and just hanging out like a college student.


"I will say that was probably one of the best moves we ever did," Mennenga said. "I knew Coach Morgan and I knew Damon, but Eric and I moving in together that was great. Eric has a really bubbly personality. He's one of those guys no matter how adverse or how good the situation is he just makes you feel so comfortable; he's just got a real calming sense about him."

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