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The Right Man At The Right Time

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on September 8, 2008

Being an African-American that just so happens to write a sports column every week, I know all too well about the various stories of courage in sports.

In school, we learned about Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens literally spitting in the face of Hitler during the 1936 Olympics, as well as the work of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

But what many of us didn’t learn, including yours truly, was the story of Don Haskins and the 1966 NCAA Championship, when he put five black guys on the floor against the big bad Kentucky Wildcats led by a certain guy named Pat Riley (yes, the Pat Riley that had the Armani suits in the 80’s) and their coach, Adolph Rupp.

And much like the stuff that’s seen in movies, the five black guys from the tiny school in El Paso beat the bluebloods from Lexington, giving the state of Texas its first national basketball championship and a footnote in history.

But it was beyond that game that made Haskins a legend.

For 38 years, the guy from Oklahoma was the face of UTEP basketball and the city of El Paso.

He helped many kids from the ghettos and rural sections of Texas, molded them into men of character, and did the next important thing on the agenda:

Win.

And win he did, accumulating 719 wins, 14 NCAA Tournaments, a National Championship, and most importantly, a big enough shadow to cast over the mountains in El Paso.

Away from the court, Haskins was a man who believed in the benefits of hard work and dedication, something that made him good enough to be voted the greatest coach in college basketball history by Dan Wetzel — whose book “Glory Road” would be later turned into an incredible movie documenting the story of the 1966 team.

It was good enough for him to have the Special Events Center, home to some of UTEP’s great teams, renamed in his honor for all the achievements that he brought to the city of El Paso.

To quote Richard Rodgers, who said, “Love is not love unless you give it and a bell is not a bell unless you ring it.” Haskins gave his heart and soul to the city of El Paso.

And it in turn loved him back.

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