Don Haskins was better than basketball.
Though Coach may not agree with that statement, due to his modesty and how he dedicated his life to the game he loved.
Don Haskins name belongs up there with Red Auerbach, Branch Rickey, and Art Rooney Sr.
Men who knew that the ONLY race is the human race.
Men who helped make our planet, and society, a better place.
His 719 wins, 7 WAC Championships, and 17 20-win seasons over 39 years tell the story of a dedicated winner.
The Bear had only five losing seasons, which is an amazing achievement.
He endured hate from media entities like Sports Illustrated, who seemed bent on trying to lessen or destroy his program, after Texas Western won the 1966 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
Don just wanted to win. He wanted the best players on the floor, regardless of skin tone. He wasn't trying to pioneer any movement. He never saw the issue of skin color.
Only the bigots did. The ones who try to separate us by saying skin color is a race.
Don wanted to coach kids, develop kids abilities and minds, as well as win. Basketball for him, life for his players.
He was quoted to have said, "I've said this many times over the last 40 years, but for a long time I thought winning the national championship was the worst thing ever to happen to me. I wished for a long time that we had never won that game with Kentucky because life would have been a heck of a lot easier for me, my school and my players."
The negativity Coach received after that win was as unbearable as the limelight thrust upon him. He was happy in El Paso, and spurned boat loads of cash from others so that he could stay where he felt most comfortable.
He preferred anonymity, but was revered in town for his generosity and story telling. He was beloved on the hardwood, even by the opposing side.
Respect loomed as large of a shadow for the Bear as his own image. His style of coaching was well known. So superstitious that he never watched his players shoot free throws, yet as fierce as the defenses his Miners employed game in and game out.
Growing up, Tiny Archibald was one of my favorite athletes.
Would we have seen Tiny's 34 PPG & 11 APG in 1973, one the greatest single season performance in NBA history by someone not named Wilt, without Don?
That is truly debatable.
The list of excellent players who played under The Bear is long. Nolan Richardson, Tim Hardaway, Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Antonio Davis, Greg Foster, Archibald, Marlon Maxey, Jim Barnes, Gus Bailey, and many more.
Coach, and his 1966 team, are inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
I hope the kids, who go to watch UTEP basketball, see that 1966 NCAA Championship banner and understand the worth of it.
Too often, we quickly forget the past.
Even when we repeat it.
Take time off from your day and recognize TRUE IMPACT!
ON SPORTS, AND SOCIETY.