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UTEP’s Don Haskins is a trailblazer of college basketball that deserves more recognition than he has been given. He led the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) program over four decades (1961-1999). His overall record as the Miners head coach was 719-354 (67 winning percentage).
His teams made 14 NCAA tournament appearances and won it all (when the school was known as Texas Western College) in 1966.
Simply winning the national championship of 1966 was only part of the true accomplishment of that national title.
In that game, TWC faced the heavily favored Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp. One of the unique features of this contest was that Rupp’s starting lineup was all white players, while Haskins’ first five were all African American.
This was the first time that a college playing for the national championship had started five African-American players.
In an overview of Haskins’ career on DonHaskinsMemorial.com, the coach downplayed the significance of the racial makeup of his starting squad, saying, “I really didn’t think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court. I just wanted to win that game.”
In that same overview, it is noted that Haskins wrote in his book, Glory Road, “I certainly did not expect to be some racial pioneer or change the world.”
In some ways, Haskins’ lack of “manufacturing” this breakthrough helps to keep it innocent. He was a coach, like any other coach, attempting to win the biggest game of his career. But, in doing so, he set an example to future generations of coaches to not allow past practices or cultural norms to dictate their decisions.
Haskins was selected for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.