When former Minneapolis North, University of Connecticut, and professional basketball icon Khalid El-Amin was named head boys’ basketball coach at St. Thomas Academy last month, basketball enthusiasts from the 1990s realized that he has come full circle.
“How did this happen?” you might ask.
It all started on a cool spring afternoon, Thursday, March 21, 1996 at the old St. Paul Civic Center located in the downtown arear of Minnesota’s capital city.
El-Amin, a 5’10” junior point guard who had led the Polars to the 1995 state boys’ basketball title and undefeated season, had them back in the tournament facing a very good team in the quarterfinals.
The team they were facing? You guessed it—St. Thomas Academy.
The Cadets, who boasted a couple of the state’s best in 6’7” senior forward Matthew Lee and 6’8” center Javier Collins and were ranked among the top teams in the state, were leading the defending state champions 65-64 with 5.5 seconds remaining in the game and a St. Thomas player at the free-throw line with a chance to increase their one-point advantage to three.
By this stage of the game Lee, a future Bradley University player, who was at the free-throw line, and Collins, who went on to Northwestern University and a career as an NFL defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys, had scored 22 and 17 points respectively.
El-Amin was at 38, including eight three-pointers.
Then came the 5.5 seconds that changed everything: Lee missed both free-throws.
After the second miss fell into the hands of Kavon Westberry, the guard passed it to fellow backcourt mate Ozzie Lockhart, who then gave it to a streaking El-Amin at mid-court. He pulled up and buried his ninth three-pointer at the buzzer for a 67-65 win followed by a jubilant celebration with fans, coaches and teammates.
Two days later, El-Amin scored 17 points to add to forward Jabbar Washington’s game-leading 28 to help North secure its second consecutive state title. The shot against St. Thomas went viral via ESPN and put El-Amin and Minneapolis North on the national scene.
He went on to lead the Polars to their third straight state crown the following year, winning Mr. Basketball, being named to the McDonald’s All-American team. He then led UCONN to the 1999 NCAA men’s basketball championship in his sophomore year and embarked on a successful professional career.
Now he’s back to lead the school he once faced as an opponent. Full circle.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.