Coach Larry McKenzie: The “Game” of Life

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Sitting down with Coach McKenzie

Budgeting… Crime… Adversity…Schools coming from the suburbs may not have first-hand experience in these areas.  Schools whose children go home to families and stability often take many of these things for granted; Be thankful. Now at Minneapolis North High, Coach Larry McKenzie cemented his legacy years ago; back at Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School he was coaching players, whereas some were facing an uphill battle just to attain stability in life. Coach McKenzie brought structure to a program and helped build a solid foundation from which many young men could thrive.

Coach McKenzie grew up in Miami Florida, a basketball hotbed.  He started coaching and teaching 3rd graders and believed you had to do everything you could to become successful. Giving up was never an option and he brought that mentality to Patrick Henry High School . He has never been blessed with the resources that someone like Kenny Novak Jr. is given at Hopkins High School or Randy Jordan is given at Stillwater Area High School, but the coach proved time and time again that he could make more with less.

How did he mold himself to become this state-title-winning humanitarian?  He credits Phil Jackson’s charisma and Coach K’s basketball clinics.  He also added in some of his own personality to his style and Patrick Henry High School was rewarded when they chose to succeed Efrem Smith with head Coach McKenzie.


Coach McKenzie won 4 consecutive Minnesota state titles between 2000 and 2003. Coach McKenzie relived his 4-peat with me over the phone.  “It was a very bright moment for an area that is, to say the least, disrupted with crime,” McKenzie said.  The titles were all won at the 3A level, which includes rival Minneapolis North and powerhouse St. Paul Johnson. St. Paul Johnson is arguably the best Minnesota high school basketball program in the last 5-7 years at any level. Coach McKenzie, however, alluded that Minneapolis is where the true basketball talent lies, despite St. Paul Johnson’s recent takeover.

Coach McKenzie has accomplished much in his lifetime, not only at Minneapolis Patrick Henry. He has also authored two books titled Much More Than Just a Game and No Winner Ever Got There Without a Coach. In these books he offers great tips for dealing with coaches, teammates, and insight on going through the recruiting process. Even while coaching and writing, McKenzie still managed to be an unofficial social worker for his players, boasting an amazingly perfect 100% graduation rate.

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Yet just because he was busy mentoring other young men, this never meant he didn’t have time for his son, Lawrence McKenzie. Larry McKenzie not only coached his son on the court, but was always present off the court. Lawrence was a star recruit for the Gophers and helped bring in National Champion Tubby Smith. This paved the way for an increase of success in the Twin Cities as Tubby went on to have five 20-win seasons with the Gophers. Tubby Smith even went as far as writing the foreword for Coach McKenzie’s book Much More Than a Game.

Coach McKenzie also spoke of former Patrick Henry High School and University of Oklahoma forward Johnnie Gilbert, who went to the Final Four with the Sooners in 2002.  Coach McKenzie said, “Gilbert was one of my favorites,” and it’s clear that Coach McKenzie was a great influence on Gilbert’s career. At the same time, McKenzie also coached against stars including LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, among many others.

McKenzie, unlike many coaches, maintains consistent discipline with each and every player, as no one is above the law.  He is a coach who cares about his players and the door is always open for players who need a listening ear and advice.  He is an accomplished man who continues to speak with ex-players about what’s currently going on in their lives. McKenzie may be known for his abilities to coach the game of basketball, yet he humbly teaches all of us in the game of life.

Coach McKenzie

Posted Date:- June 11, 2014

Posted By:- Will McDonald

Posted in:- Basketball, Community, Featured, High Schools, Sports, U of MN

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