Don Haskins

From Academic Kids

Donald Haskins (born March 14, 1930 in Enid, Oklahoma) is an American former collegiate basketball coach. He was the head coach at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) from 1961 to 1999, including the 1966 season when that school's basketball team won the NCAA basketball championship over the Wildcats of the University of Kentucky, then coached by hoops legend Adolph Rupp.

This event had societal implications well above its sporting ones. Texas Western had been recruiting and playing African American players in the 1950s, when no schools in the Southeastern Conference or the former Southwest Conference would offer them athletic scholarships. When Haskins arrived in El Paso, he had inherited three black players from his coaching predecessor. One of them, Nolan Richardson, would go on to win a national title as the head coach at Arkansas. Haskins recruited and played black players to an even greater extent. Rupp, conversely, was largely regarded as being a supporter of segregation, or at least very reluctant to recruit black players. After Texas Western dropped Utah and Kentucky defeated Duke in the national semifinals, the championship game was played on national television, and to the consternation of most pundits, Haskins chose to play an all-black starting lineup; the team defeated Rupp's all-white one.

The game was not as large an upset as was often depicted after the fact; both teams were 27-1 entering the final game, and Texas Western was ranked in the top five of that season's final polls. However, it is safe to say that the Texas Western team was not highly regarded at the start and through most of that season, and were seen as the "Cinderella Team." It is widely held, but untrue, that Haskins was the first to play black players; as noted above, Texas Western had black players before Haskins' arrival, and many schools outside the South had long since integrated their athletic programs. It is true that the 1966 Miners were the first team in NCAA basketball to have an all black starting lineup.

This game did much to change the perception of African-American athletes and to speed the desegregation of intercollegiate sports. It probably hastened the name change of Texas Western College as well; because of the basketball team, many persons erroneously concluded that Texas Western was a historically black college, perhaps confusing it with Texas Southern University. In any event, the school's name was changed to the University of Texas at El Paso the next year.

Haskins coached at UTEP for many years after his historic championship season, with general success, but never came truly close to repeating the team's 1966 performance. One highlight of his career and considered one of his most strategic games was his outcoaching of the University of Kansas' Roy Williams in 1992. Kansas was heavily favored, but Haskins was able to slow down the game and play wide. Neither Williams nor his players were able to figure out what UTEP was doing.

Although Haskins was never able to duplicate his 1966 success, he is nonetheless regarded as one of the important figures in basketball history due to his courage in facing the sport's racial issues directly. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.

A movie called Glory Road concerning the 1966 championship is set to be released in January, 2006.

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