Every basketball player’s dream at this time of year is to be the last to put away their season uniform, to be that last team standing, which typically means they’re a champion.
Minneapolis native Khalid El-Amin thrice experienced this when he starred at North High School in the mid-1990s when the Polars won three straight high school basketball championships. His game-winning shot against St. Thomas Academy in the 1996 semifinals made ESPN’s top plays of the night.
“I think all the basketball that I played getting up to that point,” recalled El-Amin, “gave me that confidence. Minnesota raised me for that, being around all the big-time players growing up, especially at North High.”
Then the 1997 Minnesota Mr. Basketball winner took his game out east to Connecticut, where he was Big East Rookie of the Year his freshman year, then as a sophomore led the Huskies to the 1999 NCAA championship. The 5’10” point guard and coach on the floor scored his team’s final four points in the 77-74 win.
After making an official recruiting visit, El-Amin remembers thinking to himself that he could be the necessary piece that UConn was missing to make a successful March run. He did just that in the last Final Four of the 20th Century.
“They were just missing a player like me,” said El-Amin. “That gave me more confidence to go there, to win a championship because that was the only reason why I went there.
“I wanted to definitely win that championship,” he continued. “I was that missing piece.”
Although that would be El-Amin’s only Final Four trip in his illustrious Connecticut career, it was not his last championship. He won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 1998 Goodwill Games, and later was both the 2006 regular season and playoffs MVP for the Ukrainian club he signed with in 2005 that won the 2006 Ukrainian championship. The guard a few years later would help his Croatian team win a title as well.
El-Amin retired from basketball in 2017 with two Ukrainian titles, the 2008 Turkish Cup and 2012 A-1 Liga championship, along with three MVP awards and several all-league team honors.
Catching up with him after a game in February at St. Thomas Academy, where El-Amin just completed his first season there as head boys’ coach and led the Cadets to the section semifinals, the 1999 Final Four run remains as fresh for him as ever. He always has been a winner at every level of hoops he has been involved in, whether here locally, out east, a brief stint in the NBA and a longer one overseas. It is these experiences that he uses in coaching young men today.
“I try to tell my team that you never know from year to year what type of season you’re going to have,” El-Amin stressed. “So, you got to live in the moment and you have to play each game as if it is your last game.
“I think if you have that type of mentality, you’ll be successful,” concluded El-Amin. “I think that any young coach that follows that recipe—having a sense of urgency, respecting the game, putting in the work and all that goes into it—will be successful.”
March Madness tidbits
This year’s NCAA women’s tournament features 12 Black female coaches, doubling the number from last year’s tourney.
Ohio State’s Sophie Jaques is among the top three finalists for the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award that goes to the nation’s best women’s hockey player. The winner will be announced on March 26. It is believed that Jaques is the first Black player to make the final cut. An MSR article earlier this month featured the senior from Toronto, Ontario.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.