Posted: 5/6/2009
Title: GLORY ROAD

Blog:                                                                                                                         

      On the campus of UTEP, University of Texas at El Paso, on the Rio Grande, is a road called GLORY ROAD.  It was named after an extraordinary sporting feat that was made into a movie of the same name by Walt Disney Pictures in 2006, 40 years after the event. Directed by James Gartner and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

     In 1961 a former girls high school basketball coach was recruited by what was then TEXAS WESTERN UNIVERSITY. They had a lousy programme and brought Don Haskins in to try and make some progress. Top flight white players weren't interested, so he recruited black players from New York City, Gary,Indiana and elsewhere and history was about to be made.

     A few nights ago at around midnight I was surfing the TV channels and came across this late night classic which I had originally seen when it first came out. It was one of the best and most authentic of all sports movies,and like 'Saturday Night Lights' about high school football in Odessa, Texas, it captures the imagination and the spirit.  I have been to El Paso half a dozen times and it's across the border from Juarez, Mexico,a rough and dangerous place these days, with the drug turf wars where you can catch a lot more dangerous things than swine flu-maybe even a bullet.

    The city is dominated by the 7,500 foot North Franklin Peak with the world's largest 5 pointed illuminated star. There isn't much rain and a dry martini is wetter than El Paso. The margarita was 'invented' in 1945 at Tommy's Place bar by Pablo Morales and the Sun Bowl Stadium on campus hosts the annual Sun Bowl grid-iron college classicThe El Paso Patriots pro soccer team of the USL League also plays in the city, and UTEP has a women's soccer team.

     Haskins not only molded his mainly black players into a decent team but almost went undefeated 23-1,and finally achieved immortality by winning the 1966 NCAA Division I National Championship at College Park Maryland, against favourites Kentucky and their legendary coach Adolph Rupp, played by John Voigt. He coached at Texas Western from 1961-1999 and died age 78 in September 2008. His college record was 719-353.

      Along the way in 1966 they knocked out famous basketball colleges, including Oklahoma City, 89-74, Cincinnati 78-76, Kansas Jayawks 81-80 in double overtime in the Mid West Regional Final, and Utah 85-78 in the semi-final and in the final started 5 black or 'colored boys' for the first time in history, and only used 7 players, all black, in the win over Kentucky Wildcats 72-65.  On the opposing team was a future NBA coach Pat Riley. Another player on an earlier team, Nolan Richardson also made it big time as a coach.  Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley, Willie Cager, Neville Shed and Harry Flournoy played against Kentucky. Four earned degrees and the other three left early but were successful in professional careers.  In contrast 4 Wildcats starters, including Pat Riley and Louie Dampier didn't graduate.

      To his discredit James A. Michener, in his book  'Sports in America' , written a decade later, called them 'loose-jawed ragamuffins', and 'one of the most wretched stories in the history of American sports'.  One of Haskins best buddies and a fishing partner was Bobby Knight who coached at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech. Don was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997 and ten years later the whole 1966 squad, black and white, were also inducted en masse. James Naismith invented the game and was the first coach at Kansas.

  

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