By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Omar McMillan has been doing this coaching thing for a long time. That’s how he knows when he has a special group of basketball players.

McMillan now has the Richfield boys basketball team on an unbeaten roll, but there’s much more to coaching than basketball.

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In 2020, the Richfield boys basketball made their way to a state tournament that never was. They received a sectional championship trophy that also has “state participant” written at the bottom. But the team, because of COVID-19, was never able to participate.

The desire to get back and play in the state tournament has fed the appetite for the young players this season.They’ve been on track: unbeaten and impressive along the way.

“We wanted to come in locked in, come in and try to reach that goal again,” said McMillan.

McMillan has been at Richfield 17 seasons, so he’s seen some things change – this year in particular. The civil unrest has challenged his team and created opportunity.

“They’ve been able to identify the equity part of it, the diversity part of it, it’s huge. And if you’re not willing to take that step into understanding that, you should stay in the pandemic COVID area, because we want to move past that and get even better as we move on,” he said.

The coach has built the program from the ground up, not through basketball, but through competing year round.

“About 80% of my players are three sport athletes, playing football, baseball, basketball, track,” said McMillan.

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They’re in a collision course in their section with another high-octane offense. Getting to state might mean beating South St. Paul.

“We’re hoping that we can meet up in the sectional finals,” McMillan added.

He gets it because he’s been here before. He gets it because he’s more than a basketball coach. He’s the father to four daughters and husband to Richfield Hall of Fame Athlete wife.

But what he wants is for the group to reap the rewards of their hard work. The team does a community rake-a-thon, raking their neighbors’ lawns.

‘I know they hate it, but that’s an opportunity to be able to bond and be together, so they deserve it,” said McMillan. “They deserve every amount of success that they are getting.”

That’s what he believes. Because he’s seen how the team has been built.

“When you have a group that buys in, families that buy in, and communities that buy in, they’re going to find out every way to try to be successful,” McMillan said.

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On Friday, Richfield won 69-63 over St. Anthony.

Mike Max