National Mentorship Month: Coach Larry A. McKenzie’s Guiding Star

Issac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Something six-time state champion and hall of fame coach Larry A. McKenzie can certainly relate to.

Before all the wins and losses, all the titles, and before seeing the numerous young African-American boys grow to be young men in his program, Coach McKenzie was a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and a new member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.

“I was like most teenagers, particularly at 19 years old. I knew everything, I had it all under control, at least that is what I thought at the time,” he described.

He would meet his new fraternity advisor, John K. Cameron, through Kappa Alpha Psi. Cameron quickly took the young McKenzie under his wing. Cameron would teach him how to write a resume, how to interview for and secure a job, how to eat a seven-course meal, and how to dress professionally, all while never accepting anything in return.

“All he said was ‘Mac, all I want from you is for when the time comes is for others to stand on your shoulders the way that you stood on mine’,” McKenzie said.

Ever since, he has mentored over a generation of young men to pay back Cameron, for the mentorship and lessons he gave him.

“That has driven my coaching philosophy and everything that I’ve done. The work that I do with the young men over the last 40 years in the game of basketball is me repaying John K. Cameron for allowing me to stand on his shoulders,” he said.

Coach McKenzie has seen his young men graduate, go to college, and get degrees. When starting out it was said that they had a greater chance of going to prison, he has seen instead his young men change the course of their family’s lives.

He hopes that those he has mentored will go on to lead the next generation. Having experienced both sides, Coach McKenzie has some insight into what makes a good mentor and mentee.

Like Cameron, he said a mentor must be “a north star, a guiding star, so they lead you to a place through the way that they live. For John K. Cameron I looked at the way he treated his kids, how he treated his relationships, all of those kinds of things. It wasn’t him telling me what to do, it was him showing me what to do and that’s the model for a great mentor. A real model, not a role model.”

In his student-athletes, he’s seen some fantastic mentees. McKenzie said to be one, “your cup can’t be all the way full. You’ve got to have enough room so people can pour into your life. Then you also have to be receptive. If you know everything, then nobody can give you anything. You’ve got to understand that you don’t know everything.

“King Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge [instead of silver and gold]. A good mentee wants wisdom and knowledge more than they want silver and gold. Little Sunday sermon there.”—Shelby Kieffer