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 become 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 basketball legends 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 recruited 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 U. S. 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.