Jim Petersen boarded a bus carrying all 24 of the McDonald’s All-Americas in 1980 and felt like a stranger in a foreign land.
“I didn’t know a soul,” he said.
Petersen was selected as Minnesota’s first McDonald’s All-America that year. The game was played in Oakland, Calif., and featured some feature NBA players, including Doc Rivers, Sam Perkins, Derek Harper and Petersen.
Petersen felt like an outsider because he played high school basketball during a time when the Minnesota State High School League prohibited athletes from competing in summer national events such as AAU.
“Here I was picked as being one of the 24 best players in the country, and I don’t know a single person,” Petersen said. “And they all know each other because they all played AAU basketball.”
That scenario wouldn’t happen today, of course, because premier players attend national showcases all summer. Athletic secrets don’t exist in the internet age.
Not that Petersen’s talent was a total secret. He played in three state tournaments at St. Louis Park High. He got invited to five-star summer camps and received scholarship offers to first-rate programs, including UCLA.
Petersen credited two people for promoting his talent: his high school coach, the late Augie Schmidt, and former Marquette coach Al McGuire, who recruited him as a younger player.
“He promoted me nationally,” Petersen said. “He got me onto the [recruiting] lists. I owe a debt of gratitude to Al McGuire because he was one of the guys that really promoted me big time.”
Petersen signed with the Gophers, but that was an unusual story, as well. He initially signed with Duke but changed his mind after Duke coach Bill Foster left for South Carolina.
The new Duke coach flew to the Twin Cities, checked into the Thunderbird Motel and called Petersen for a face-to-face visit. Petersen knew little about this young coach named Mike Krzyzewski.
“I drove there by myself and went to Mike Krzyzewski’s room by myself,” Petersen said. “Can you imagine that happening today?”
Petersen was leaving for the McDonald’s All-America game the next day. Krzyzewski tried to convince him to stick with his commitment to Duke. Petersen declined.
The next morning, Gophers coach Jim Dutcher met Petersen and his mom at the MSP airport. He brought scholarship papers with him.
Petersen signed with Minnesota and then flew to play in a prestigious all-star game against players he didn’t know.