Donald Lee Haskins “The Bear” (March 14, 1930 – September 7, 2008)

“I wasn’t out to be a pioneer when we played Kentucky. I was simply playing the best players on the team, and they happened to be black.” [1]


Don Haskins made a name for himself early on as a player under the legendary college basketball coach Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M, (now Oklahoma State University) from 1949-52. From 1955-1961, he was a successful high school coach in Texas, but decided to take a pay cut for a chance to try and make it at the college ranks. [2] He accepted a job offer at Texas Western College (now the University of Texas El Paso or UTEP) in 1961 Prior to his arrival, Texas Western was one of the few schools who recruited and played African American players, in a time when it was predominately white athletes playing college basketball. His first team, the Miners, were 18-6, followed by a 19-7 mark the following year where he made the first of his 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. [3] He led them to the NCAA Tournament again in 1963 and 1964 and they reached the National Invitation Tournament in 1965 for teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament. The Texas Western Miners finished the 1965-1966 regular season with a 23-1 record and entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 3 in the nation in the final AP college basketball poll of the season. [4] They went on to face top-ranked Kentucky in the National Championship. Haskins started five African American players in that game for the first time against Hall of Fame Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp who started an all white team, including future NBA all-star, coach and general manager Pat Riley. The Miners came out on top 72-65 and finished the season 28-1. After his championship season, he coached at UTEP until 1999 and compiled a career 719-353 record. He coached future NBA all-stars Nate Archibald, Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis. He was an assistant coach in the 1972 Summer Olympics, held in Munich, Germany, under Hank Iba. [5] Seventeen of his teams won at least 20 games and he had only five losing records in his career. After 1966, his teams played in 13 other NCAA Tournaments, and advanced as far as the Sweet 16 in 1992. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997 and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. [6]

Practice: He often said that he wasn’t trying to prove anything against Kentucky in the National Championship when he started five African-Americans, but that he was simply playing his best players. His practice was the game of basketball and coaching. He was able to perfect his practice over the years and was able to help others understand this practice that he became so respected for. The internal goods of this practice was the ability to get the most out of your players and to understand what the other team is doing and make the necessary adjustments during the course of the game and the season. He also had to be the spokesperson and voice of his players when times got tough. He was the father figure in many of their lives and was able to use coaching as a teaching method for life. He had the eye for talent and hard work. He was able to read into his players and see when they needed to be pushed and when he had to back off.

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Personal Challenge:
He recruited African-Americans to play basketball before most schools allowed them to attend college. When asked what shaped his attitudes about race, Haskins refers back to his childhood when he used to play one-on-one against a young black player named Herman Carr. When they would take water breaks, they would have to use separate fountains. Haskins received all the publicity and scholarship offers, despite Carr being the much better player. Carr was not allowed to play college basketball and instead joined the Army. There was a quota that each college basketball coach had to meet back then and Haskins was the first and only of his time to go against that and do what he thought was best despite the safety of himself and his players being threatened each and every time they left their home gym. The quota back then was recruiting, white, home bread basketball players that could pass and shoot in the type of offense that schools had become accustomed to. Haskins did not meet this quota, instead he went after bigger, more athletic black players who liked to run up and down the court and score moreso than they passed. His style of coaching changed over the years because of the players he recruited. He recruited players that reminded him of Herman Carr. He thought of each black player to come to Texas Western to play basketball as another Herman Carr, but this time he could do something about it and he could make their dreams of playing college basketball come true. His practice of coaching helped his personal challenge in that as a coach he was able to bring in any players he wanted, and he suffered through years of anger because of the way his friend Herman Carr was treated. He wanted each one of his players to have the same opportunities that he had in the game of basketball, opportunities that his friend did not have because he was black.

The courage that Haskins showed not only during his childhood when he had to fight through the anger inside him that he felt because his friend could not live the same dreams as him because of the color of his skin. He stood in the face of the cameras and in front of the microphones for his team during their National Championship run and made sure he absorbed the hate directed at his players and did not let them know what others were saying about them. His courage stole the will of opposing coaches and players and instilled it in his own. He made sure that anyone who wanted to get to his players, had to go through him. He wanted to make it clear that as long as he was the head coach at Texas Western, he would recruit as many black players as white players, and would not stop because of what others in college basketball thought of him. Haskins insisted that none of his players could turn to the crowd unless he did, because their job was to have their eyes on the court at all times. He wanted them to understand that people didn't give them a chance against most schools, especially Kentucky in the national championship. He stood eye to eye with reporters and the most legendary coach of his era, Coach Rupp of Kentucky, and told him that he and his team expects to him. He knew the type of things that would be said to him and his players during the game but he wanted them to go out there and take it to every team they played.

Choice Worthy Good
Haskins wanted to make sure his friend Herman Carr played the game of basketball for a reason. That reason for Haskins was to open the door to other African-Americans who wanted to play college basketball. This justice that Haskins seeks for throughout his career is the choice worthy good he accomplishes during his life. He recruited and played black athletes because he saw Carr in each one of them. He wanted to make sure each would have the same opportunity at Texas Western that white athletes had playing at other colleges. He also made it clear to the college basketball world that he would serve as an ambassador for black athletes that wanted to play college basketball and that he wanted everyone to know him not only for his coaching abilities, but that of a man, husband, and leader.

Cultural Ill
The way his players were discriminated against during his first few years at Texas Western and the following years after he beat Kentucky in 1966 was the social ill he had to deal with for the rest of his life. The racism he and his team endured over the course of his first few years was more than any coach in the history of the sport. Haskins received over 40,000 pieces of hate mail after the National Championship game against Kentucky and had to deal with others in his field, including Coach Rupp, who did not like what he was doing. Coach Rupp went on to say that the Texas Western players were crooks not students. Sports Illustrated also came out with a piece saying that Haskins exploited his black players and that they were not even students at Texas Western. It was unusual for his team to go on the road and not hear racist remarks or slurs from the home crowds. A year after the game against Kentucky, they were playing a game in Dallas and members of the team, including Haskins, received phone calls saying that they would be shot if they went on to play the game. He took the brunt of the hatred that was aimed at his players and made sure none of his players had to listen or talk about what went on off the court. He made sure his players were focused on doing their jobs, and he would do his. His players ignored the chants, signs and racial slurs going to and from games and even during them. He made it possible for many black players to be offered scholarships and have the chance to play college basketball because of how many coaches and schools felt the need to try and keep up with what Haskins had and was doing at Texas Western. Against Kentucky, the entire crowd was white, along with the cheerleaders and referees. During the national championship game, fans waved confederate flags and screamed at each and everyone of the Texas Western players. The win was the only one over Kentucky head coach Adolph Rupp in a championship game, and changed the landscape of college basketball, as we know it today. He allowed his players to play the game they grew up with playing in parks and on the streets. It was a game no one in college basketball had ever seen, but one Haskins opened up to despite his background of the game of basketball being challenged. Coaches are usually concerned with how each player acts and performs on the court, but Haskins had to monitor how others acted around his players off the court as well. Before big games he not only had to worry about how to stop the other teams best players, but how to stop his players and himself from reacting to the racism that swept arenas and gyms when Texas Western took the floor.


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Fitzpatrick, Frank. "Texas Western's 1966 Title Left Lasting Legacy." ESPN Classic. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2012 <>

"Photo Albums of Don Haskins." Coach Don Haskins. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <>

Zegers, Charlie. "Don Haskins: 1930 - 2008." Basketball. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012. <>

  1. ^ Coach Helped Integrate NCAA Hoops. Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ Peter Finney. Texas Western's Road to Glory. CBS Sports.
  3. ^ Peter Finney. Texas Western's Road to Glory. CBS Sports.
  4. ^ Charlie Zegers. Don Haskins. About.
  5. ^ Frank Fitzpatrick. Texas Westen's Lasting Legacy. ESPN.
  6. ^ Photo Albums of Don Haskins. Glory Road UTEP.
  7. ^ Photo Albums of Don Haskins.