The 1966 National Champion Texas Western Miners
There was a time in my life when it just hit me and when it hit me, it hit me hard. That it was sports. I couldn’t wait for the paper to hit my door Saturday morning so I could read every single word of the sports and editorial pages.
The year was 1984 and that year I learned of a coach who helped change sports forever.
I fell in love with John Thompson’s eventual champion Georgetown Hoyas because I felt pride a Black coach won a title and advanced thought. The Hoyas, as we all know, were led by a monster block everything center named Patrick Ewing but they weren’t the story. The story for me personally was a coach who 18 years earlier, had the courage to do something no one ever had done–start five Black players and win a National Championship.
Don Haskins‘ 1984 UTEP team lost to Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV squad 73-60 in the round of 32, but during that game is where I became a fan of the man.
He was a quiet coach. He was a respectful coach. You could tell his teams would go to war with him. As he knelt on the sideline you could see the years of wise intelligence and understanding in his face. I was proud of him and tried hard to ease mentally back to the moment that was his life of love. Some people just fall into your soul and fit naturally. Don Haskins was that man. He was Anthony Carter. He was Dr. J. He was Reggie Jackson, Magic, Bird, Franco, Ralph Sampson, Doug Williams…
I mention those athletes because they shaped my early development and created a thirst for learning about the love. The emotional love in my soul hit hard when Reggie smacked three and became stronger when Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76’ers finally won a NBA Championship in 1983.
So I was open…
I was open and willing to challenge what I’d learned of sports and garner a sense of history through reading and watching and writing and searching.
His face was weathered, for his face saw all. The aged lines told stories of faith and pain and disdain for the primitive minds who saw not of the future. They saw not of advanced thought. They put a loaded barrel up to change and violently pulled the trigger with eyes wide shut. They didn’t want to hear anymore of it. That hated it and would kill to stop it.
Before I first heard of Don Haskins, the college coaches who reasonated with me were Thompson, Chaney, Stringer, Driesel, Meyer and Terry Holland of the University of Virginia.
Don Haskins was different. He paved the way for me to love Buck O’Neil.
After I learned of him, I followed UTEP even after he retired in 1999. I cried when he retired. I cried hard. History died in me. I love history when it affects me. Don was that guy who begot the emotional dynamic which ultimately became the writer I am today.
We all know what he did and probably saw Glory Road. We all know how that fateful game in 1966 shaped Nolan Richardson and Pat Riley–or do you?
Find out if you don’t.
I learned. Why don’t you?
Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins died yesterday at age 78. I wish his family the best.
I miss you Mr. Haskins. Thank you. Thank you so much.