Remembering Texas Western

Team photo of Texas Western's win at the 1966 championship.

It’s Black History Month, which is a good time to remind college basketball fans of a story that is often overlooked: the 1966 Texas Western basketball team’s national championship win.
At this time in US history, black athletes were not allowed to play at most Southern schools and most Southern conferences such as the SEC were all white.
A small school in El Paso named Texas Western University would change all that. The team started five African-American players. Though there were white players on the team, coach Don Haskins put in the players that gave his team the best chance to win – color did not matter to him.
There were negative stereotypes of black players, especially in the South. The notions were that blacks were undisciplined, not intelligent enough and would crack under pressure.
Most coaches probably wouldn’t dare play more than one or two black players in this region, let alone five starters, with seven on the team altogether.
Despite the rough times they had to go through playing games in the South, Texas Western would go on to surprise most by having a great regular season at 23-1 and earning a top five ranking entering the NCAA tournament.
In the tournament, the Miners would knock off powerhouses such as Kansas and Cincinnati before making the final four.
The Miners would beat Utah in the semifinals before facing the Kentucky Wildcats with All-Americans, Louie Dampier, and Pat Riley in the championship game.
Kentucky was heavily favored and they were all white. The wildcats were led by legendary coach Adolf Rupp, who is still considered one the best coaches of all time even now. At the end of the game, Texas Western would make history.
Kentucky was one of the best teams in the country and a top program, but the Miners defeated the Wildcats 72-65, becoming the first all black starting line up to win the national championship.
Texas Western would never trail most of the game after point guard Bobby Joe Hill made back to back steals and layups on Kentucky guards in the first half. This was considered a stunning upset and one of the most important wins in sports history.
“I was a junior in high school watching that game, at first I didn’t see any big deal about it because just a few years prior, Loyola (Chicago), and Cincinnati won national championships with three or four black starters,“ said Tom Suiter, a long time WRAL sports anchor. “But there was no question because they were a school in the Deep South, it made the story more important. Also, Coach Adolf Rupp was thought to be a racist, I never knew coach Rupp personally, but that was the perception on him by some. That also made this story even more interesting.”
African American players weren’t anything new, but playing for a Southern school and winning a title was big.
“I believe it changed the face of sports forever,” said Kevin Daniels, WPU Assistant Director of Athletics. “Geographically this was a big deal, and it’s important to note the turmoil this team had to go through to get to that point. The white players on the team had to go through just as much, and for Dan Haskins to start those black players was good.”
After Texas Western’s victory, the Southern schools and conferences started integrating their teams. Adolf Rupp would go on to recruit Kentucky’s first black player in 1970. This story is depicted in the movie “Glory Road”, which came out in 2006, the 40th anniversary of the historic victory.
Though the school is now known as UTEP today, the name Texas Western is still known in the history of college basketball.
Thanks to coach Haskins and his willingness to play his black players, Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Harry Flournoy, Nevil Shed, Willie Cager, Orsten Artis, and Willie Worsely, are now legends.
I believe this was a huge win for racial equality, in sports and in society. Today there are so many black players playing at all levels of basketball in all parts of the country.
As the NCAA tournament comes in a month, I challenge everybody to remember this team for helping change the culture in the South forever.
Many young people today are not interested in history, but it is never too late to start.
Watch coverage of the historic win here.

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