Former Texas Western (UTEP) basketball coach Don Haskins made a special visit to chat as part of Sunday's ESPN Classic's Game of the Week broadcast.
Haskins will forever be credited for revolutionizing college basketball when, in 1966, his Texas Western team (now UTEP), starting an all-black lineup, upset the all-white Kentucky team coached by Adolph Rupp for the NCAA championship.
ESPN Classic's Game of the Week series will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the 1966 Texas Western-Kentucky NCAA Championship on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Hosted by Rich Eisen, the documentary will tell the story of Texas Western as it makes NCAA history as the first college team to start an all African-American starting five in the NCAA Championship game, going up against Adolph Rupp's Wildcats, who started an all-white lineup. Texas Western upset Kentucky, 72-65.
Here's an edited transcript of the chat:
It's a great honor to be talking to you today and I am looking forward to answering your questions. I will answer them as honestly as I possibly can.
What did you see, that others didn't, in the race of the players you started? At the time, did you have any idea of the impact that was to come because of you?
As a young coach, when I got here, I already had a black player, Nolan Richardson. Another black player had already been recruited, Willie Brown, by the coach before me. Before that summer, I got there in Aug. of 1960, and I brought in a black player, Bobby Joe Hill, a different Bobby Joe from the national championship team. We weren't thinking black or white. I was trying to find the best players to come to Texas Western. I had no idea of the impact it would make. There were other black players around. Joe Caldwell played for Arizona State. He was drafted in the third round. Then I brought in Jim Barnes, a junior college player. There were quite a few players from this area of the country. New Mexico and Arizona had a black player or two.
How were you able to get kids to go to Texas Western since
it is located in an obscure area? What are you up to now?
About retirement, I am like Bum Phillips. I don't do a thing and I don't start till noon. I did some hunting a few days ago. I love to fish and hunt. I love to watch my son play golf. As for the other part, I talked to Willie Brown on the phone and he introduced me to a playground director in the Bronx, Hilton White. Hilton, a black man, was in the service, loved El Paso and helped me recruit guys like Nate Archibald, several really great players. All Hilton ever said, just give them the best chance to graduate, and they all did. El Paso is very tolerant. The president of our university was very tolerant, Dr. Joe Ray. I never heard the word quota. No one said anything about recruiting black players. I think seven of our 12 on the national championship team were black. After we won it, Hilton got a college coaching job in Massachusetts. He was a pretty good recruiter. I hated to see Hilton go. We've had a few good players in the NBA.
Coach, did you receive any offers from other schools after the 1966 championship? If yes, did you consider taking any of them? Thank you.
Ya, but I've been happy here. I had an opportunity to go back to Oklahoma State where I went to school. One time I went to Detroit in the early '70s, where I signed a contract and backed out, at Detroit University. They had Spencer Hayward at that time. I was very fortunate to play for Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M, as it was then. He's the best coach to me in any sport.
What advice would you give to your heir to the throne at UTEP after their recent tough road swing which included a record loss at FSU.
The new coach, Jason Rabedeaux, is a friend of mine and we talk a lot. Mike, Fresno is a tough place to go play. We have a pretty good team (16-4). There wasn't one thing we could do right that night. Outside of Branden it's a real young team. They have played really well on the road but nothing worked out that night. We got blitzed, just a horrible night offensively and defensively. There's no advice I could give for the ball not going in the basket. Fresno is a team that could go to the Final Four.
I think our new coach Jason Rabedeaux, he's only 35, he was a great assistant to Kevin Sampson at Oklahoma for 11 years. This young man will have tremendous success as a coach. He is a great recruiter and will do very well.
Who's the most talented player that you ever coached at UTEP?
Well. That is a tough one. Everybody in recent years has watched Tim Hardaway. Jim Barnes, Nate Archibald were great. I had Gary Brewster from Midland, Texas, he hurt his back as a senior, he was great, too. He's a white guy. Bobby Joe Hill, my guard on the national championship team, he was a great guard, as good as Archibald and Hardaway. He never pursued the NBA but he could have.
What are some of your most rewarding experiences in El Paso?
I've had a lot. This town has been great. I think the most rewarding thing that happened to me, I was chosen to go into the Basketball Hall of Fame in '97. They had a big roast for me four days before. We have a great place to play basketball. They renamed the place the Don Haskins Center. I can't think of something more rewarding. They have named a street for me, Don Haskins Drive. I've been fortunate enough and flattered about these things. I am in the Texas and Oklahoma Hall of Fame, so I feel very fortunate.
Is 64 teams to many teams to have in the NCAA tournament?
Every year there are still teams getting left out that are worthy. I wish they would start from scratch and let everyone play. If we had more than 64, I think it would be great. I know we have been left out because of geographic complications. A lot of politics gets played. That's why every year, the bubble teams don't get in. Some teams gets screwed around a little bit. One year, we were 21-7 and won our last 12, we didn't get into the NCAA or NIT.
Coach, what was the biggest challenge in putting together an all black lineup? And what were the players thoughts at the time?
Robert, I was so young. When all those things started, I was 35 when we won. It wasn't that big a deal. Here in town, I wasn't really criticized. The people, university and town were always tremendous. The problems started after we won. We got some hate letters. Some say I am a pioneer but all I was trying to do was win some games. When we played the championship, I remember getting a telegram from Bill Cosby, and the team got one from him, after the game. In my zillions of bad letters, a couple black leaders wrote me and said I was an exploiter, so I got it from both sides. Two or three years later, the Southwest got some black players. That did get the ball rolling. If we had something to do with that, I am proud of it.
I watch all the Miners' games in town. I am very interested in watching the basketball team. We had a great football team this year, too. I enjoyed that. They were fun to watch.
Coach, the tone of the 1966 championship game continues. Then, and to many still, Kentucky was the top basketball crop. But Rupp was known to have a particular position regarding race. In a word, do you think that the "meaning" of that win could have been any greater when considering that the win came against Rupp's white UK team? Say, for example, the win came against an all-white Oregon St. team. Could it have been the same? "Meant" as much?
I think it did have a little more impact. There was no trash talk. The Kentucky players shook our hands and said nice things as I remember. Adolph said some things but I never payed much attention. As for the game, it was a well played game against a great Kentucky team. We were probably the top defensive team against the best offensive team. Defense prevails a lot. Look at this year's Super Bowl. The question is good, you are probably right. Kentucky being in the south, it had much more impact. After the game, I had no questions from reporters. It hit home later. The impact of that game maybe hurried it a little bit with black players getting more scholarships. It did have an impact and I am proud of that.
I had a player Gerry Armstrong and we played UConn in the semifinals. If it wasn't for Gerry, a white forward, he was great. He helped us beat UConn. If not for him, we are not in the finals. But our top seven guys probably were black.
I'd like to tell the people that every one of the players, every man, turned out to do great after college. David Latin had done really well in business. He didn't finish getting the degree. Artis, a guard from Indiana, is head of detectives in Indiana. David Polasio from El Paso was the vice president of Capital Records. All these guys did well. Every one of them. Willie taught school in town. To a man, Gerry Armstrong coached in Missouri. Most of my guys from that team are retired, that's hard to believe. I want to thank you all for the questions. I look forward to watching the game again Sunday night. Tell all the sports fans out there to have a good day. Take care everyone.