Monday, September 8, 2008

Don Haskins: Changing College Basketball

Don Haskins, one of college basketball's most important coaches in history, died at the age of 78 yesterday evening.

When it comes to breaking color barriers in sports, most people know about Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, Jesse Owens, and Jack Johnson, just to name a few. But most didn't know who Don Haskins was before the release of "Glory Road" in 2006.

As coach of the Texas-Western Miners, Haskins, with star players David Lattin and Bobby Joe Hill, led his team to the 1966 National Championship. In the championship game in Cole Field House in College Park, Haskins started five African American players, the first time ever in an NCAA championship game, against Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky squad. Haskins's action gave him and his players numerous death threats from all sorts of people. Haskins has always said that he wasn't trying to make a statement, he was trying to put the best combination of players on the court to beat the Wildcats. In a great game, the Miners won 72-65, winning the national championship.

Although he never broke the color barrier in college basketball, it had been unheard of to start so many African Americans on one squad. After this game, almost all color barriers that universities had imposed on recruiting disappeared.

Haskins was a coach for many years at Texas-Western/UTEP, and was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year. Though he wasn't the greatest coach ever, he certainly was one of the most important. He will be missed.

(Photo credit: UTEP athletics)

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