Don Haskins – R.I.P.

On September 7, 2007 the entire Texas Western basketball team that defeated the University of Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA championship game was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. How ironic is it that Don Haskins, the man responsible for starting five black players in that game — an unprecedented move in such a racially charged era — would pass away exactly one year to the day at the age of 78.

He’s been quoted as saying that for a long time he felt that winning the national championship was the worst thing that ever happened to him. After beating Adolph Rupp and his all-white Kentucky squad using only seven players all of whom were black, his players were labeled as “street thugs” and coach Haskins would receive tons of hate mail and death threats from the white community in the aftermath. He was also accused by leaders of the black community of exploiting those players just to win a championship. Coach Haskins has long maintained that he just wanted to win the game and decided to play his “best” guys. Whatever his motive, the move changed the face of sports in America by desegregating intercollegiate athletics, especially in the south . After Texas Western — now known as the University of Texas El-Paso — won it all, many schools started recruiting black players.

He never won another championship, but guys like Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Tim Hardaway, Antonio Davis and Greg Foster all came through El-Paso during his 38 years on the sidelines. He also coached former University of Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson and current USC coach Tim Floyd was an assistant under him. He leaves a legacy in college basketball similar to that of Branch Rickey when he signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Like Rickey, with coach Haskins it wasn’t about color…it was just about winning.

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