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Jayson Hron: 'Hounds, Patriots share on-court diversity lesson

A glimpse at the human existence on a grand scale may cause sensory overload. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people love sport -- it's life's drama, played out on a smaller stage with rules that everyone can comprehend.

A glimpse at the human existence on a grand scale may cause sensory overload. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people love sport -- it's life's drama, played out on a smaller stage with rules that everyone can comprehend.
Such an act took place in Duluth on Saturday, when the Minneapolis Patrick Henry Patriots and the Duluth East Greyhounds played a matinee basketball game. It was a matchup of top teams, top talents and much, much more. So much more, in fact, that when the final buzzer sounded, everyone present knew they had witnessed something special.
Five black players and a black head coach against five white players and a white head coach. Diversity taught on a stage roughly the size of a basketball court.
"Black kids approach the game differently than white kids," said Patrick Henry head coach Larry A. McKenzie. "To white kids, I think it's more like recreation. For our kids, a lot of times it's hope. It's a way out."
McKenzie also thinks it's a way for his players to learn -- both on and off the court. His hope is to not only win basketball games, but to educate and prepare his kids for life as well. Saturday's game gave him a chance to do both against a gritty East club located in a community far from the streets of Minneapolis.
"It's good for my kids," he said.
It was also good for the Greyhounds, who tasted a style of basketball that they're not accustomed to.
"They're more athletic," East's Rick Rickert said of the Henry players. "Basically, we thought we were going against an NBA team."
Rickert, of course, was speaking more for his teammates than for himself. A veteran of several national all-star teams, Rickert is no stranger to playing with and against black players. But he admits that the first time was a learning experience for a kid from northern Minnesota.
"I looked around and thought, 'Can I really play with these guys?'" said Rickert.
He eventually found out that he could, and in doing so, he gained insight not only athletically, but socially as well.
"It was a little different at first," he said. "But now I don't even think about it. They're just ballplayers."
Clearly though, Rickert's talent level is such that the playing field seems level. To others, the game can look entirely different and intimidating. McKenzie, however, believes that it's the environment, not the race, that intimidates.
"It's not a black-white issue," he said. "It's more of a city issue. I think it's awesome for kids in Duluth to play our game at the Target Center."
He admits, though, that his game is probably a little shocking to an outstate, mostly white team. "All of our kids play above the rim," said McKenzie. "That's the big difference."
But another significant difference that McKenzie points out is the social aspect of the game.
"Black kids think about the NBA," he said. "They think, 'Something can happen for me and my family,' and that's both good and bad. Kids in Duluth, maybe they think about owning a team. Our kids think about playing for one."
Thankfully, that is where the differences end.
"Everyone has two legs, a nose and two eyes," said McKenzie. "And there's a lot of black kids that can't play basketball. It's just a matter of how you approach the game."
And in the end, both the Patriots and the Greyhounds approached it just as they should have -- as ballplayers. Nothing more, nothing less -- and nothing different.
Jayson Hron is the sports editor at the Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at jayson.hron@duluth.com or by telephone at 723-1207.

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