Editor’s Note: This is part one in a two-part interview with Juriad Hughes, a former St. Paul Central boys’ basketball player from 1987-89, and how the sport of basketball influenced his life. His story continues about his experiences in more detail next week in part two.
Former St. Paul Central boys’ basketball great Juriad Hughes, 50, has looked forward to explaining how the sport of basketball has helped him reach personal goals and put him in position to help others, especially the youth in the community. We offered him an opportunity to do so.
“I’ve been wanting to share my story,” Hughes said with pride. “I want to give back. Basketball has given me the opportunity to do that.” Since early in his childhood, Hughes has had a passion for the sport that he said had a profound impact on his life.
“Growing up as a young kid on the playground, I always had aspirations to play basketball. That was my dream,” he said. “I wanted basketball to help me go to school to get an education. I wanted to be able to give back everything I learned.”
After moving from North St. Paul to St. Paul entering first grade, Hughes immediately became a fixture on the courts at Oxford [Jimmy Lee] Recreation Center. He says he figured he was good at basketball when he started being chosen to play on the “big side” as an eighth-grader.
“At Oxford, there was a big side and little side,” he recalled. “The little side was where people my age played and the big side had the high school, college, and grown men playing. One day I got picked to play on the big side,” he said smiling. “I took off from there and never looked back.”
How did it take off one might wonder?
He helped Ramsey Jr. High School win the St. Paul City Championship in 1985 as an eighth-grader. In the next two seasons (1985-86) and 1986-87) he led St. Paul Central freshmen and sophomore teams to City championships.
By the time he reached the varsity level during the 1987-88 season, Hughes had grown into a 6’2” scoring machine with unlimited athletic ability.
Though he averaged 22 points per game that season, observers acknowledge that his breakout game was a 30-point performance in a victory over No. 1-ranked Minneapolis North late in the season.
As a senior Hughes averaged 25 points while leading the Minutemen to a fourth-place Class 2A state tournament finish. He was voted the 1989 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
From there it was on to college, where Hughes played at Casper Community College (Wyoming), New Mexico State University, and South Dakota State University.
It was Hughes’ college experience that taught him the value of an education. “I didn’t take my studies seriously,” he admitted. “I did just enough to get by.”
That attitude, Hughes said, influenced him to pass up an opportunity to play at Georgetown University.
“[Georgetown Coach] John Thompson called [St. Paul Central] Coach Dan Brink to tell him he wanted me to play but I didn’t have the grades. He wanted me to sit out a year as a Proposition 48, but I wanted to play so I turned him down. Looking back, I probably should have accepted his offer.”
Today Hughes is an educator at his alma mater, a sports director at LA Fitness, a football and basketball referee, and a personal trainer.
He credits his experiences playing college basketball with helping him develop a foundation for himself and his family. “I’m married with three kids, and I’ve got the jobs that I want,” he said.
Hughes then reiterated how the sport he loved changed his life: “I was battling a lot of things at home growing up, “he said. “Basketball was the only thing that kept me in school. Basketball saved my life.”
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.