Metro versus outstate Minnesota basketball showcase builds bridges on MLK Day

Organizers of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day high school basketball showcase are hoping the sport will help build bridges, bringing student-athletes together from across diverse communities.

The event organized by the Minnesota Black Basketball Coaches Association was held on the campus of Benilde-Saint Margaret's in Saint Louis Park.

To Minneapolis North High senior standout Willie Wilson, playing in the first Martin Luther King Junior Cultural Showcase was extra special. He sees the day as a celebration of Black history and an opportunity to honor the legacy of the civil rights icon.

"Some people really don’t know about Martin Luther King, who he is, what happened with Martin Luther King," said Wilson. "So just using this day to bring teams together through basketball and through education to teach them about the history of Martin Luther King Day really is, because some people just look at it as a day off from work or a day off from school. And it’s deeper than that."

That’s exactly what leaders of the Minnesota Black Basketball Coaches Association hoped for when they organized the event, with three games featuring three metro urban high schools taking on three out-state teams including North versus East Grand Forks.

Saint Paul Central against Cambridge-Isanti that a reference to scholarship and recruiting efforts specifically at Minneapolis and Saint Paul city schools.

The coaches have said their players are often overlooked particularly by Minnesota colleges and universities.

Again, hoping a showcase event like this one, as well as the George Floyd Memorial Tournament held over the holidays, might shine a spotlight on the quality of student-athletes they have here. A diverse group of student-athletes that wouldn’t typically meet in their home neighborhoods, but, in the gym, gain some life lessons.

"We want to use today as a launching pad to begin to build bridges," said North High Coach Larry McKenzie. "We want to bring our kids together, have conversations and get to know each other. And as I have said, hopefully, they will realize as they go out and become our decision-makers, we as people have more in common than our differences."
The Minnesota Black Basketball Coaches Association was formed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder to empower and raise the voices of these front-line educators, whose classroom is the basketball court. And whose mission is to make sure their so-called "city kids" receive the same opportunities as those who wear suburban and private school jerseys.

"We haven’t gotten the kind of recognition that our players deserve," said St. Paul Center coach Scott Howell. "It is rare that the top D-I programs come into my building. And I know over my 20 years, I have definitely had those kinds of players."