Larry McKenzie brings basketball acumen, hope to Minneapolis North

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 6:19 PM

Larry McKenzie is back on the north side of Minneapolis, coaching at a former rival and creating hope.


Larry McKenzie applied for the Minneapolis Henry job he held previously, but didn’t get it and is now at Minneapolis North and has led the Polars to a 7-7 record.

Photo: Photos by Chris Kelleher • Special to the Star Tribune,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


Larry McKenzie never intended to be a savior. In fact, he didn’t intend on being Minneapolis North’s boys basketball coach at all.

“I heard that the [Minneapolis] Henry job was open and I applied for that,” said McKenzie on his hopes of returning to the school he’d coached to more than 200 victories and four state championships. “But they didn’t hire me.”

Having spent the past five years coaching at Holy Angels, McKenzie was interested in getting back to Minneapolis’ north side. And it just so happened that Minneapolis North — his former archrival — was also in need of a coach.

“When they asked me to take over, I was like ‘Man, let me pray about it’ ” McKenzie said. “I was going through my devotions in the Bible one day and I turned to Matthew and it talked about how Jesus was rejected by his own people. I thought ‘There’s my answer.’ The rest is history.”

At North, McKenzie is doing more than coaching a basketball team. He’s reviving a community, attempting to add a future to a school that itself was on the verge of becoming history.

A hoops way of life

Few high school programs have been as interwoven with its immediate surroundings as the North boys’ basketball team to the north side. Minneapolis’ oldest high school has 19 state basketball tournament appearances and won five state titles. The program has turned out elite basketball players Ben Coleman, Bret McNeal, Khalid El-Amin, Jabbar Washington and Kammron Taylor. Many former players still live in the area and had long been fixtures attending games.

But things at the school changed for the worse in recent years with the north side’s embattled reputation. Neighborhood kids who traditionally might have attended North took advantage of multiple open-enrollment opportunities and deserted the school. It got so bad that Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson proposed closing the school in 2010.

A plan for revitalizing the school was developed and put into place, but changing minds was difficult. Last year, North had just 62 students enrolled in the ninth and 10th grades.

Enter McKenzie, oozing with confidence and carrying a reputation as a builder of winning basketball programs. His hiring has given the school a jolt of momentum.

“I grew up in the neighborhood but I never really thought about going to North,” said sophomore forward Jamil Jackson, who attended Metro Tech in Minneapolis as a freshman. “When Coach McKenzie came, I changed my mind.”

Jackson and sophomore Tyler Johnson lead a talented corps of young players who make up the North roster. The Polars have just one junior and no seniors among their top eight players. With McKenzie as their guide, they have shown fans recognizable glimpses of the storied teams of old.

Through Monday, North was 7-7 and playing the type of up-tempo, high-pressure basketball the team was noted for.

“Oh yeah, things are a lot better now,” said Johnny Hunter, a guard on North’s 1976 state tournament team and the father of freshman forward D.J. Hunter. “The fans are coming back. People are excited.”

A wave of support

That excitement was evident Friday, when the Polars traveled to play Henry. What was once the best rivalry in high school basketball had become ho-hum. On this night, however, the stands filled in early, with North’s side of the bleachers overflowing. Among those in attendance was El-Amin, at home on a recent break from playing professional basketball in Turkey.

A supporter of North’s rebuilding effort, he saw McKenzie’s arrival and the raucous crowd as favorable signs.

  • related content

  • Left:  Minneapolis North forward Tyler Johnson took the ball to the hoop during the Polars’ 83-70 victory at Minneapolis Henry on Friday.

  • Above:  Minneapolis North alumnus Khalid El-Amin cheered on the Polars.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Los Angeles - LP: C. Frias 2 FINAL
Colorado - WP: J. De La Rosa 16
San Francisco - WP: S. Romo 4 FINAL
Arizona - LP: A. Reed 2
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: F. Liriano 9
Toronto - LP: J. Happ 1 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: B. Norris 6
Washington - LP: R. Detwiler 1 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: A. Wood 3
Miami - WP: H. Alvarez 4 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: D. Gee 3
NY Yankees - WP: B. McCarthy 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: A. Cobb 2
Cincinnati - LP: D. Corcino 1 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: K. Hendricks 3
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Sale 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 6
Cleveland - WP: C. Carrasco 2 FINAL
Houston - LP: B. Oberholtzer 0
Detroit - LP: D. Price 4 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: K. Gibson 8
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 0 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: A. Wainwright 2
Seattle - LP: J. Paxton 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: C. Wilson 5
Texas - WP: R. Ross Jr. 6 FINAL
Oakland - LP: S. Doolittle 1
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 5 FINAL
San Diego - LP: E. Stults 2
Tampa Bay 7:25 PM
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
(5) Auburn 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM


Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29




question of the day

Poll: Do you support Wednesday's decision to sideline Adrian Peterson again?

Weekly Question


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters