Coach Was Color-Blind, He Only Wanted to Know If You Could Play Basketball

Coach Was Color-Blind, He Only Wanted to Know If You Could Play Basketball

Glory Road – 2 Stars (Average)

Basketball Coach Don Haskins does not have to wait for his legend to happen. He is a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Few today would remember Don Haskins. He was the coach at Texas Western in 1966 when his 27-1 team played Adolph Rupp's 27-1 University of Kentucky Wildcats for the NCAA title.

Nothing too unusual about that, except that Haskins would become the first coach in NCAA history to start an all-African American lineup when the Miners squared off against Rupp's all-white Kentucky team that featured two players who would have been well-known in the NBA Pro league: Pat Riley and Louie Dampier.

Remember these names: Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley and Harry Flournoy during February, Black History Month. They were the starting lineup for Texas Western when the Miners won the NCAA championship against an all-white Kentucky team, 72-65.

I would graduate from Michigan State University two months after Texas Western won the title, and would not be aware of just how historic this event was. My high school and college cross-country and track teams were integrated. Kentucky would not even offer African Americans basketball scholarships, and there were many other colleges and universities which excluded African American players in 1966.

There was a lot of hatred in the South at that time. Heck, there was a lot hatred everywhere, but not in Don Haskins' will to win for Texas Western, known today as UTEP, the University of Texas at El Paso. Haskins was color-blind and simply put the best players on the floor to compete.

Haskins recorded the best players, nothing else mattered. Not even the lousy treatment and death threats both Haskins and his players received from die-hard, ignorant, bigoted Texas Western boosters and donors. They sing a different tune in Texas today, especially at the University of Texas.

Glory Road in 2006 retold the story of Don Haskins and Texas Western. Josh Lucas played the role of Don Haskins, Derek Luke played Bobby Joe Hill and John Voight played Adolph Rupp. It is not one of the best movies ever made, but the story of Texas Western is on par with other great victories in sports history, including the 1980 US Hockey team winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics. Contrary to the movie version, the title game was not as big an upset as was depicted. Texas Western had an excellent team, as evidenced by its No. 3 ranking the final polls that year. Haskins was not the first coach to play African Americans, Texas Western had African American players on its roster before Haskins arrived.

Haskins was the first to start an all-African American lineup in the NCAA title game, and it is also true that Texas Western was the first college in a Southern state to integrate its athletic teams. Good for Texas Western.

Glory Road had a good message of hope for African Americans. At least one coach had the backbone to play the best. Do not think for a moment that this was Don Haskins' one moment of glory, and that he was courageous but not an excellent basketball coach.

Since Glory Road was not as much about Don Haskins as some very talented, very tolerant and very brave Texas Western players, let it be known that Don Haskins:

1) Played three years at Oklahoma A & M under Hall of Fame coach Hank Iba and was Team Captain.

2) Was tied for 4th place among the NCAA's most winning active coaches when he retired with 719 wins and 353 losses.

3) Had 33 winning seasons at UTEP in 38 years of coaching.

4) Led UTEP to no less than 17 20-win-seasons, an NCAA title in 1966, 7 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championships, 4 WAC tournament titles, and 21 postseason trips (14 to the NCAA plays and 7 NIT-National Invitational Tournament-appearance).

5) Changed college basketball forever by starting an all-African American team against an all-white Kentucky team in the NCAA tournament and winning the title.

6) Coached Hall of Famer Nate "Tiny" Archibald, NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway, and Antonio Davis, and mentored future coaches Nolan Richardson and Tim Floyd.

Glory Road is a film for every basketball enthusiast. It has a great message and represents a great moment in the evolution of basketball as we know and enjoy it today.

Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley

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