Lu’Cye Patterson’s eighth-grade year featured few basketball players attending summer gym sessions and low numbers on game day during the regular season when he suited up with the Brooklyn Center high school team.
The smaller roster during the season was because players were failing to meet grade requirements, according to coach Matthew McCollister. Now, Patterson is a sophomore and he said his team has changed.
“This last summer, we had everybody coming into the gym, trying to play with us,” Patterson said. “The old ‘Center’ people didn’t do the things we do this year.”
Another sign of change: McCollister has not had any players serve academic suspensions this season, a first for him in his three seasons as coach of the Centaurs.
Brooklyn Center also has put together a better team on the basketball court since Patterson’s eighth-grade group. The Centaurs have a 17-8 record with one regular- season game left, compared to 15-11 in the 2015-16 season.
McCollister, however, prioritizes academic results.
Players go through study halls and report mandatory grade updates to their coaches every week. The reports require teachers’ signatures, too. The coach is in his third year at Brooklyn Center and he implemented academic rules in his first season.
“For them to have to go to their teacher and form a relationship, so that if there is something going on, they can start that dialogue,” McCollister said.
In order to avoid suspensions under Minnesota State High School League guidelines, players have to simply make satisfactory progress toward graduation. McCollister uses higher standards: If players have a failing grade, even during the semester, they are not allowed to play. McCollister remembers a time when players questioned the study hall and other rules.
“They weren’t used to that type of follow-through, so there was some butting of heads,” McCollister said. “Even if they were on track to graduate, we weren’t going to let them go.”
McCollister keeps his team close in the offseason by inviting them over for meals. The team spent summer days eating Chick-fil-A, pizza and drinking Minute Maid lemonade. The Centaurs played yard games and had an NBA2K tournament before a Brooklyn Center football game.
Nathan Hawton, who has played football and boys’ basketball, said the football team underwent a similar improvement. Last season Centaurs football finished 5-4 after routinely finishing with a losing record back at least to the early 2000s.
“They worked a lot to get us new equipment so that we’re safer,” Hawton said. “And to change the program.”
McCollister learned about off-court success from Larry Mc- Kenzie, the head coach of a section rival. McCollister coached under McKenzie when they were at Patrick Henry and Holy Angels. McKenzie now coaches Minneapolis North. His team ranks first in Class 2A, according to Minnesota Basketball News; the Centaurs are fifth.
“For us, it’s about creating family,” McKenzie said. “It is a year-round task, it’s no question. We do mandatory study hall, we do mandatory grade checks. All of those things that he’s doing, he observed when he was with me.”
Three players were missing from the Centaurs’ practice Monday: All three were working on ACT prep.
“You don’t get to be a winner in one set of your life,” McCollister said. “We want to make you good citizens, we want to make you students, good family members and then the winning will take care of itself.”
Jack White is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.