Texas Western's Road to Glory
 
 

Jan. 9, 2006

Next week,  CSTV's "#1 College Sports Show "  will sit down with the cast of "Glory Road" to talk about the movie and the history-making 1966 Texas Western/Kentucky game that inspired the film.  CSTV's Greg Amsinger is scheduled to interview stars Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Mehcad Brooks and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.   "The #1 College Sports Show " airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. (ET) on CSTV : College Sports Television [available on cable and satellite] and online via broadband through CSTV's XXL package at www.cstv.com.

By Peter Finney Jr.

CSTV.com

For Don Haskins, March 19, 1966, was not the defining moment of his life. That was, though, the night his starting lineup of five African-American basketball players at tiny Texas Western in El Paso stunned Adolph Rupp's Kentucky bluebloods 72-65 for the NCAA championship.
 

 

Of course, Haskins realized he was making social history as the first coach to start an all-black lineup in the NCAA title game. That odyssey is the focus of "Glory Road," a movie based on Texas Western's shocking upset of Rupp's Runts, which will be released Jan. 13 in theaters across the U.S.

Visit the Glory Road Movie Web Site

Visit the Glory Road Movie Site
 
Haskins said his decision was simple self-preservation: a coach starts his best five players. In Haskins' mind, this was not a case of black vs. Kentucky blue, black vs. college basketball's bluebloods, black vs. white.

Haskins is 75 now and still has that crusty bark that terrorized his players more than the incoming verbal missiles they regularly absorbed on the road from spectators south of the Grits Line.

The defining moment of Haskins' life came as a teenager in Enid, Okla., where he played one-on-one basketball during the summer with Herman Carr. Carr was Haskins' African-American friend. They attended different schools: Carr went to Booker T. Washington High and Haskins to Enid High. But Carr's athletic glory road hit a dead end upon graduation.

"When I left and went to college at Oklahoma A&M, Herman couldn't go anywhere," Haskins said recently, recalling the event that forged his understanding of 1940s racial realities. "I felt bad. We worked together at the feed store. I drank out of the white water fountain, and he drank out of the other one. It bothered me."

That coming-of-age moment forever raised Haskins' consciousness, and his one regret about "Glory Road" is that his life-changing relationship with Carr ended up on the cutting room floor. The two remain friends. Carr is a retired postal worker in Denver.

But Carr's treatment bothered Haskins enough that he made a commitment to intensifying the recruiting of African-Americans at Texas Western when he was named head coach in 1961. When Haskins arrived in El Paso, the school already had a history of recruiting black athletes. Former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, a holdover recruit, was on Haskins' first team.

This was a time when no schools in the Southeastern Conference or the former Southwest Conference would offer athletic scholarships to African-Americans. Many schools outside the South had opened their arms to black players. In 1956, the University of San Francisco won the NCAA championship with five black players, including Bill Russell, but all five did not start. Cincinnati (1962) and Loyola of Chicago (1963) won the championship with four black starters.

But in West Texas, it's fair to say Haskins rattled some chains.

"There was not that much recruiting of black athletes," Haskins said. "El Paso may have been the only town in the United States where you wouldn't have a problem doing it. I guess it's because it's a border town and there are a lot of cultures. And maybe it has something to do with Charlie Brown, who was the first black player to play at Texas Western in 1957. He was a great player."

In 1966, Texas Western regularly played seven black players, including cat-quick guard Bobby Joe Hill, who is deceased, and center David (Big Daddy) Lattin. Guard Willie Worsley and forward Neville Shed were both from New York City and the West Texas hills were as foreign as a moonscape.

Every road game was an adventure in bad taste, but Haskins had one rule: no player could turn his head to the crowd unless the coach did. Rarely did anyone on the bench keep his eyes anywhere but on the court.

"Some of the teams we played would call us the N-word and stuff like that," said Worsley, who is now a coach in Rockland County, N.Y. "When you go through it one or two times, unfortunately you get used to the name-calling. We all heard the rumors that people with dark skin couldn't handle the pressure and would fold under a tight situation."

Shed, who works as a student program coordinator at the University of Texas in San Antonio, said Haskins had a method behind his grueling practices and in-your-face coaching style.

"Coach Haskins did a great job in shielding us from the times," Shed said. "Hell, we were too busy hating him to worry about what was going on in the outside world. I learned later on that he got tons of hate mail. I admire my white teammates because I believe they might have taken some flak, too, for being `n----'-lovers. I knew in my heart they were going to defend us. A lot of them said, `These are my brothers.' Teams today wish they had that kind of closeness."

Haskins acknowledged the rough treatment his team received on the road, but he said that was just another challenge that his players had to learn to accept.

"When people are saying things behind the bench, you just ignore it," Haskins said. "There were a lot of cat calls and things like that. The thing that happened most was after the Kentucky game when I started getting the hate mail. There was a tremendous amount of it. I stopped keeping track."

Haskins said he hopes the movie makes it clear that Rupp's all-white team, which included Miami Heat coach Pat Riley and ABA star Louie Dampier, comported themselves as complete gentlemen during the championship game. The Kentucky team was known as Rupp's Runts because no starter was taller than 6-foot-5. Haskins decided to employ a three-guard lineup to defuse Kentucky's fast break. Hill's two steals late in the game, which led to layups, helped seal the victory.

"The Kentucky players were absolutely great sportsmen," Haskins said. "Nothing happened in the game. There was no talking. They were a great team and they were the first ones to cross the midcourt line after the game. Rupp was a great coach. I've had people say, `Well, he wasn't too pleasant after the game.' I wouldn't have been pleasant either if I had lost."

Haskins acknowledges that Texas Western's victory was historic - one writer called it the "Brown v. Board of Education of college basketball." But the victories of the University of San Francisco, Cincinnati and Loyola already had started a process of increased opportunity for black athletes. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Vietnam War had created societal changes that simply were reflected on the basketball court.

"All I was trying to do was win the game," Haskins said.

Recalling his lifelong friendship with Herman Carr, Haskins said athletics has a way of bridging racial and cultural divides in a way unlike any other human activity.

"I don't think players ever have a problem with each other," Haskins said. "It's always the people around them. It's always been that way. I learned that through Herman. When we played, his skin may have been a different color than mine, but it didn't matter."

Maybe those memories will make it to the DVD version of "Glory Road."

Visit the Glory Road Movie Web Site Visit the Glory Road Movie Site
 


 
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Don Haskins on the set of Glory Road