When Texas Western squared off against Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA championship game at Cole Field House on the University of Maryland campus, a paradigm shift took another big step forward in college basketball.
Racial integration had already begun in college athletics. But, this contest marked the first time when a school fielding an all-white starting lineup (Kentucky) faced a school running out an all-black starting lineup (Texas Western) in a college basketball championship game.
In today’s media environment, this facet of the game would have been extensively covered. According to ESPN’s Frank Fitzpatrick:
There was so little madness surrounding the contest, in fact, that its starting time was 10 p.m., it wasn't carried by a major network, and it was televised only on a tape-delayed basis in several American cities.
In spite of many of the inaccurate stereotypes of the day, Don Haskins’ Miners used persistent defense and a disciplined, ball-control attack to knock off the Wildcats, 72-65.
The University of Texas at El Paso (formerly Texas Western College) website provides further insight into this historic moment:
Haskins, a humble and private man who does his best to avoid the public spotlight, has always said that color of skin was never an issue when he put his Miners on the court against Kentucky.
“I was simply playing the best players I had. It was what I had done all year,” Haskins said.
While Haskins was trying to put his best players on the court, many coaches would have caved in to the pressure to do what was socially expected during that era, which was to start at least one white player.
It is interesting to note that, during the college basketball season following this game, Perry Wallace of Vanderbilt, was “the first black person to play varsity basketball in the SEC,” the conference that Kentucky played in and still plays in to this day.