As he had so many times before, Larry McKenzie left the Minneapolis Henry gym victorious Friday night, his team having survived a battle against its biggest rival.
The difference this time, however, was that McKenzie was leading the visitors, coaching young-but-talented Minneapolis North to an 85-70 victory over Minneapolis Henry in a battle of what was once the state's most entertaining and heated rivalry in high school basketball.
McKenzie, who coached the Patriots to four state championships before leaving after the 2007 season, said he wasn't nervous before the game — "I built this," he said. "I won one-hundred-something games here. The only thing different was being on the other side of the court" — but there was no question this game meant just a little bit more.
"We came ready to play," McKenzie said. "I told our kids that this is the kind of game where stars are made."
The Polars weren't perfect — few teams that play mostly freshmen and sophomores are — but they showed grit in the face of Henry pressure and flashes of brilliance that have North fans hoping for a return to the school's glory days.
Sophomore Jamil Jackson scored 25 points, including three resounding first-half dunks, to lead North (7-7, 4-0 Minneapolis City). Sophomore guard Tyler Johnson, the Polars' most complete all-around player, scored 17 points before fouling out.
"This is a great win, especially within our conference, for our team," McKenzie said as he was mobbed by well-wishers from both sides as he left the court. "Our young guys came ready to play."