MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There was a time when just about every high school basketball team in the state feared facing Minneapolis North. But the Polars have not won a state title since 2003, and since then the school has fallen on hard times.
Declining enrollment and the threat of closing the school has rallied many alumni to do what they can to help save the school and its winning tradition.
Now Khalid El-Amin, the player who was once synonymous with North and the word championship, is helping out the program that gave him his start.
El-Amin led the Polars to three state championships, and his retired jersey sits above the gym where he learned how to be a champion.
“I always get goose bumps when I come in here,” said Khalid El-Amin, describing the gym.
He says it was a no-brainer decision for him when North coach Brett McNeal, another former North star, asked him to help out. Together the two hope to resurrect a program that produced a number of division one and professional basketball players.
“We want to come back in here and create a hunger and a desire to win,” McNeal said. “I think it’s our job to help kids of the next generation to be better than we were. I mean that’s really how you build a tradition, that’s really how you build a legacy.”
Julius Johnson, a student at North, said that when he looks up at the championship banners, he thinks of hard work and determination. He said he also feels pride – Polar pride.
El-Amin says it’s back to the basics for the Polar team.
“It’s a chance to give the guys the right way to play,” El-Amin said. “Playing street ball, things like that, we’re not taught the real fundamentals, the real character of being out there on the court. Both Brett and I, we’ve been on division one, we’ve both played professional basketball, so we have a lot of experience to give back.”
Players, like Coraey Jones, say they’re learning a lot from El-Amin.
“His presence, you know, it’s incredible,” Jones said. “You know him, you understand he won a championship, Mr. Basketball … he knows the outside and the inside.”
El-Amin hopes his presence is an inspiration for the young men trying to follow in his footsteps. He says he is form the same community they’re from, and if he can make it, they can.
But the players know it will take more than skill to be successful on and off the court. So El-Amin also throws in some life lessons on how to avoid becoming a victim of street life.
“I was a person who was always in the gym,” El-Amin said. “I was encouraged to be there, I wanted to be there, all my friends played basketball and that’s what it was…You want to hang around the positive people that are doing the same thing you are doing.”
El-Amin believes with hard work and dedication, North boys basketball could be back in the state tournament in a couple of seasons.
At the moment, El-Amin is playing overseas in Croatia with hopes of returning this summer to once again help coach the next generation of basketball players in North Minneapolis.