College basketball pioneer Don Haskins dies at 78

Associated Press Modified: September 8, 2008 at 6:10 am •  Published: September 8, 2008

EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- The glow from Don Haskins' greatest triumph was mostly a memory when Disney decided to take another look. Then came the movie "Glory Road" and a whole new generation learned what Bob Knight already knew about his old friend's career - and legacy.

"Don got more out of his teams and players than any coach who has ever coached college basketball," Knight said.

Haskins, the Hall of Fame coach credited with helping break color barriers in college sports in 1966 when he used five black starters to win a national basketball title for Texas Western, died Sunday. He was 78.

Dr. Dwayne Aboud, Haskins' physician, told reporters Sunday that Haskins had been suffering from congestive heart failure and died at home about 4:30 p.m. He was surrounded by friends and relatives, Aboud said.

"As many of you know, Coach Haskins has had some cardiac problems. He opted not to go back to the hospital but to remain at home," Aboud said, standing outside the UTEP basketball arena named for Haskins.

As word of Haskins' death spread Sunday afternoon, those who knew him were quick to sing his praises.

"The word unique does not begin to describe Don Haskins," Knight, the winningest men's coach in the sport's history, said Sunday. "There is no one who has ever coached that I respected and admired more than Don Haskins. I've had no better friend that I enjoyed more than Don Haskins."

"The myth that surrounds Don Haskins in the movie 'Glory Road' and what he did for black players is better said that he cared like that for all his players," Knight added. "To me that tells me more about the man than anything. ... There was never anyone like him before and there will never be one like him again."

Haskins, who was white, was an old-time coach who believed in hard work and was known for his gruff demeanor. That attitude was portrayed in the 2006 movie that chronicled Haskins' improbable rise to national fame in the 1966 championship game against an all-white, heavily favored Kentucky team coached by Adolph Rupp.

Nolan Richardson, who coached Arkansas to a national title, played for two years under Haskins.

"I think one of the truest legacies that he could ever leave was what happened in 1966. He was never political. Those were the times and the days the black kids didn't play at other schools, but he started five and was able to win with them without worrying about what color they were," Richardson said.

Haskins retired in 1999 after 38 seasons at the school. He had a 719-353 record and won seven Western Athletic Conference titles. He took UTEP to 14 NCAA tournaments and to the NIT seven times and briefly worked as an adviser with the Chicago Bulls.

Haskins, 19th on the Division I men's victory list, turned down several more lucrative offers, including one with the now-defunct American Basketball Association, to remain at UTEP as one of the lowest paid coaches in the WAC.

Former coach Eddie Sutton said Haskins "had a tremendous impact on the college game. Anybody who's been around college basketball dating back to those days, they've seen how it changed after Texas Western won the national championship."

Sutton said he hadn't talked to Haskins for at least six weeks.

"Don had not been in good health and was having a hard time," Sutton said. "He'll be dearly missed. He was a great basketball coach."

Haskins, born in Enid, Okla., played for Hall of Fame coach Henry "Hank" Iba at Oklahoma State, back when the school was still Oklahoma A&M. Haskins was later an assistant under Iba for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team in Munich.

As a coach, Haskins became a star early in his career by leading his Miners to the 1966 NCAA championship game, then making the controversial decision to start five blacks against Kentucky. The Miners won 72-65, and shortly after that many schools began recruiting black players.

"He took a school that had no reason to be a basketball giant and made it into one," Knight said.

Haskins said he wasn't trying to make a social statement with his lineup; he was simply starting his best players. The move, however, raised the ire of some who sent Haskins hate mail and even death threats during the racially charged era.

"When they won the national championship against the University of Kentucky, that changed college basketball," Sutton said. "At that time, there weren't many teams in the South or Southwest that had African-Americans playing. There was a change in the recruiting of the black athlete. It really changed after that. They've had a great impact on the game."

Guest book: Don Haskins

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