At the conclusion of St. Paul Central’s 52-51 nonconference boys’ basketball victory over Minneapolis North, DEREK REUBEN and JURIAD HUGHES expressed excitement.
“The rivalry is back,” said Reuben.
“You know I had to come see this game,” said Hughes, smiling.
For both, and for the capacity crowd that witnessed the contest, it was a chance to flash back to a time when the mere mention of Minneapolis North playing St. Paul Central in boys’ basketball meant a packed gym at the host school and a game featuring some of the state’s most talented athletes.
That was in the 1980s. More on the Rueben-Hughes connection later. First let’s talk about the present contest before venturing down memory lane.
When the two teams met at St. Paul Central last week, curiosity was looming. Central, coached by alum SCOTT HOWELL and expected to compete with St. Paul Johnson for City Conference honors, is led by seniors RAYEON WILLIAMS and KALU ABOSI.
North, led by former Minneapolis Henry coach and four-time Class 3A state champion LARRY MCKENZIE, are part of a youth movement in which three freshmen, two sophomores and one junior accounted for all of the Polars’ points.
In the end, experience prevailed over youth. While Williams, who highlighted the contest with a two-hand tip dunk, and Abosi led Central with 17 and 10 points respectively, it was sophomore SAM GUBBRUD who calmly hit two freethrows with 11 seconds remaining that led the Minutemen to victory.
Freshman ISAAC JOHNSON led North with 12 points while sophomores JAMIL JACKSON and TYLER JOHNSON chipped in 10 apiece.
Now for the flashback!
From 1979-1988, North and Central were two of the state’s top boys’ basketball programs. During that period, the teams met nine times in the Twin City game — a contest that matches the Minneapolis City Conference against the St. Paul City Conference champ — back when it was a big event annually held on the campuses of Augsburg College, Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas.
Central won the first contest in 1979. North won the next seven in ’80, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’85, ’86 and ’87.
This brings us to 1988. Reuben was the state’s top player as a point guard for North, at the time the state’s top team. Hughes was a junior shooting guard who led Central in scoring. Central had lost twice to the Polars earlier in the season.
The teams met for the Twin City title on March 5 at the University of St. Thomas. Hughes exploded for 21 spectacular points in leading Central to a 60-51 upset.
The game signaled the end of an era.
Last week’s games could signal the beginning of a new one.
Mitchell Palmer McDonald welcomes reader responses to [email protected].