Monday, September 8, 2008

The Final Horn Sounds and Red Light Turns On for Don Haskins

By Bobby

Don Haskins died, who led the University of Texas at El Paso basketball program from 1961 to 1999, died Sunday at 78, the school reported.

While he led the Miners to 14 NCAA Tournament appearances, seven NIT and Western Athletic Conference appearances, and a 719-353 record, including a 1997 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, his best memory may have been the 1966 NCAA Championship team. Facing Adolph Rupp and his all-white starting five at Kentucky (including a future NBA championship winning head coach), Haskins sent five blacks on his starting five to face the legendary Wildcats. While controversial at the time, the 72-65 win at Cole Field House in College Park, MD, made Haskins a legend by showing race, in an era of race riots, should never be part of any recruiting reasonings, which has led to open recruiting in colleges and more integrated teams.

That tenacity inspired the team forty years later to the Disney film "Glory Road" about the team, and a Wheaties box which wasn't permitted when because of collegiate amateurism rules -- but as the players were in their 60's or had been deceased, and because of the release of the movie, the decision was made to give the team their own Wheaties box.

Overall, Don Haskins changed college basketball for the better by taking down racial barriers against a notorious racist of the time. It also continued the push against racism that continues today. Could you imagine teams refusing to recruit players because of the colour of the skin, when instead the recruiting should be denied because of their academic results and ability to meld with the team?

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