Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Look Back ...at Texas Western's 1966 NCAA Champions

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Look Back ...at Texas Western's 1966 NCAA Champions

Article excerpt

We'll hear the story.

With March Madness around the corner, be assured that the tale of how Don Haskins and his historic Texas Western team helped change the face of college basketball will be told more than a couple of times.

Yet to this day, 31 years after his team put the final nail in the coffin of segregation in college basketball, Haskins, who was finally elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame, says now what he said back then: He wasn't trying to make history when he sent out five African-American players to start against Kentucky in the 1966 national championship game. He was just doing what any coach would do - giving his team its best opportunity to win. "All I did was play my best people," Haskins said of the 1966 title game in which his predominantly black and Hispanic team beat an all-white Kentucky team coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp, 72-65. "It was that simple. "I didn't give a lot of thought to it before the game, at the game or during the game. I just thought about beating them. I became aware, after getting baskets and baskets of hate letters after the game, that it wasn't very popular in the South. That's when I knew how important that game was." It was a different America back then. Today, it's common to see an a ll-black starting five take the court in a college basketball game. But back then, outside of teams from the historically black colleges, it was extremely rare. And in the South, which was still fighting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation was still the norm, effectively barring blacks from major college athletic teams. "You have to remember where we were located," said the 66-year-old Haskins, now in his 36th season at what is now Texas-El Paso. "We're in the far west end of Texas, and going west there were already black players at Arizona State, New Mexico, Colorado. We hadn't played games in the other direction. So we had always played against teams with black players." While Kentucky had not won a championship since 1958, it was still the monarch of Southern basketball. And Rupp, known as The Baron, had declared that he would never let a black player wear Kentucky Blue. UCLA had begun its dynasty run, and Maryland had begun to integrate the Atlantic Coast Conference by signing Bill Jones in 1964. But in '66, Rupp's Runts, featuring Pat Riley, Louie Dampier and Larry Conley - were top-ranked and primed to set things right. Then the Miners dominated Kentucky - the last all-white team to play in the title game. The ripple effect was enormous. Texas Western's upset destroyed the myth that black players weren't sufficiently disciplined to win a national championship. The racial wall had been breached, and Southern schools began to eliminate their unwritten rules against accepting black players. …

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