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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Everyone has their story’: Winding road led Sullivan Menard to starting role with Whitworth

Whitworth guard Sullivan Menard, who is averaging 14.6 points per game, shoots over Pacific Lutheran’s Jackson Reisner during a Northwest Conference game Jan. 20 at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.  (Caleb Flegel/Whitworth University)
By Ethan Myers The Spokesman-Review

Sullivan Menard’s basketball career has not played out quite like he expected.

But his path, which took him from Alaska to Illinois to Wyoming to Whitworth, is one from which he has taken a lot.

“Everyone has their story,” said Menard, a senior guard for the Pirates . “For my experience, it wasn’t like I was flaking on a program, I just wanted to take a chance on myself and ended up going to three schools and that’s just how it happened. I definitely am appreciative of my journey, for sure.”

Born and raised in Wasilla, Alaska, Menard began gaining attention from NCAA Division I schools after a strong senior season in high school, when he won Gatorade Player of the Year in the state.

When he received interest from DePaul University, a member of the competitive Big East Conference, and took a visit to the campus in Chicago, it became the easy choice. Menard joined the team as a preferred walk-on and redshirted during his freshman season.

“It was really cool,” he said of his freshman year. “I wasn’t on scholarship, but they had me travel with them every game and was a big part of the team.”

Menard speaks fondly of his time at DePaul, but he said the team’s culture and lack of success led him to transfer. He shifted his attention to the junior college scene, while still holding onto his aspirations of playing for a Division I school.

He joined Western Wyoming Community College, a reputable basketball program in Rock Springs, Wyoming. After playing well to start the season, a typical baseline drive to the hoop – one that he had done hundreds of times – upended his Division I dreams.

Menard tore several ligaments in his knee on the play. He recalls it as a low moment.

“(It) was a really hard part of my life that I needed to grow through,” he said. “I think I took a lot of pride and humility away from (that time). I put so much pressure on myself and put so much time into basketball and then not seeing it work out with an injury, it was super hard mentally and super confusing. … You hear everyone say, ‘You put in the time and results will happen.’ But what do they say to you when you do put in the time and results don’t happen? It was a really hard answer you have to find yourself.”

Soon after his injury, Whitworth appeared on his radar as an option.

“I knew that it was a Division III school, but it was really awesome to go somewhere where I can have faith integrated into the school and team, and also just win championships,” he said. … “I somewhat gave up on my dream of getting back to the Division I level, but at that point, I was kind of OK with it.

“Sitting there in Wyoming with my knee blown up, I just wanted to go somewhere where I was supported and at a good program.”

Menard spent his first year at Whitworth still in recovery from his injury.

Last season, he was a valuable player off the bench, but he said the ankle injury hampered him from playing to his full potential.

“Now to this year, I’m just finding my groove again and having that confidence again that I’m still a great player and can still do the things I used to do,” Menard said. “It just took me some time to get more reps, but it’s been really good and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity.”

He has become a steady force in his starting role for the Pirates this season, averaging 14.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

He averages a Northwest Conference-best 2 3-pointers a game, shooting them at a 39% clip.

Menard, whose game has changed and evolved since leaving Alaska, feels his experiences give him a competitive edge on the court.

“I think ‘Sully’ just brings a ton of competitiveness and confidence to our group,” Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski said. “He always plays to win and does a great job bringing energy and competitiveness to the game. I think our guys rally around that. I think he has had a tremendous year for us and been a lot of the passion behind our team.”

Because of his redshirt season and injury, Menard has two years left of athletic eligibility. He is undecided on whether he plans to use them.

Going to Whitworth has also allowed Menard to be a dual-sport athlete as a member of the golf team.

When he is not playing sports, fishing or hunting, Menard is also pursuing a private pilot’s license, something he hopes to achieve before graduating.

The Pirates (14-7, 10-2) hold a one-game lead over Whitman in the conference with four games left to play in the regular season. Whitworth will host Linfield on Friday and George Fox on Saturday.

Menard said he and his teammates have high hopes of winning the conference and making a splash in the postseason tournament.

“It’s been a really great year and we’re in a really great spot,” Menard said. “I really hope that we can make a really big run, and it’s something that I can look back on and be proud of – and for Spokane, too.”