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Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Family, friends show respect for Don 'The Bear' Haskins

Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas -- Dozens of fans, many wearing UTEP orange and blue, solemnly filed past Don Haskins' wooden casket Tuesday at center court of the arena named for the pioneering basketball coach.

A song softly played from the soundtrack to "Glory Road," a film about the school's improbable 1966 NCAA title run when it was known as Texas Western College.

The Hall of Fame coach, who retired in 1999, died at 78 Sunday from congestive heart failure. Haskins is credited with helping break racial barriers by starting five black players during the 1966 championship against all-white Kentucky.

Scoreboards at the Haskins Center were lit with the final score -- Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 -- while a spotlight was trained on his championship banner in the rafters.

A private funeral is scheduled for Wednesday. A public memorial, expected to draw thousands, is set for Thursday at 6:35 p.m. -- tip-off time for televised college basketball games.

Just about anyone who's lived in El Paso for any time has a Haskins story, from seeing him drive through town in his old pickup to spotting him at a local bar. But those who knew him best, including former players and coaches, say Haskins did his best to keep attention off himself.

Haskins, known in El Paso as "Coach" and as "The Bear" by much of the college basketball world, passed up lucrative offers during his career. He chose to stay at the school that gave him a head coaching job as a relative unknown.

Haskins was remembered this week by fans, colleagues and former players for his passion for the game -- he was known to call former UTEP coaches to chat about their new teams -- and his dedication to his family and El Paso.

USC coach Tim Floyd, a former Haskins assistant, said he once got a call from the mayor of Van Horn, a small town about 120 miles east of El Paso, to thank Haskins for giving a ride to a family of five stranded along the highway.

"He'd been coyote hunting and saw a station wagon broken down," Floyd recalled this week. "He put them [the family] in his truck, drove them to El Paso, put them up in a hotel for two nights, and gave them $1,000."

The family drove to Los Angeles after Haskins also helped get their car repaired. The coach never told anyone about it, not even his wife, according to Floyd.

Floyd said he never told the story before, mostly because Haskins wouldn't have wanted anyone to know.

"I'm only telling it now because he's gone," Floyd said. "I want people to know."