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


Cincinnati - M. Latos 6:05 PM
Baltimore - B. Norris
Boston - J. Kelly 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - S. Greene
Detroit - K. Lobstein 6:05 PM
Cleveland - C. Carrasco
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Miami - B. Penny
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Toronto - R. Dickey 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Hellickson
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Arrieta
LA Angels - C. Wilson 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 7:10 PM
Minnesota - T. Milone
Texas - D. Holland 7:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Pittsburgh - J. Locke 7:15 PM
St. Louis - A. Wainwright
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
Colorado - J. Lyles
Seattle - J. Paxton 9:05 PM
Oakland - S. Gray
Washington - D. Fister 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw
Arizona - W. Miley 9:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 13 FINAL
Louisville 31
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota 9:00 PM





question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question


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