Game always came first to Haskins
Upon learning of the death tonight of longtime UTEP coach
• Thank goodness the end came after Haskins had made it into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His enshrinement in 1997, after six unavailing nominations, came far too late -- not to Haskins himself, for he was a self-effacing man, but to chroniclers of the game, who regarded his 1966 NCAA title as more and more meaningful the smaller it appeared in our rear-view mirrors.
• As regards to that national championship, known as the Brown v. Board of Ed of college basketball because Haskins' Texas Western team with its five black starters whipped
• No one who knew Haskins and his plainspoken Oklahoma ways ever doubted that this was true.
• I last saw him more than 10 years ago. The Miners had just weathered three seasons without a winning record. The Bear was supplementing his income by going into the hills above El Paso to call and shoot coyotes, then selling the pelts for $75 a piece. Visits from national sportswriters like me came fewer and further between. In his office he told me of growing up in Enid, Okla., and the story of
Haskins was a stud in his day, good enough to draw a scholarship offer from coach
For the "stand" he took in 1966, the Bear got 40,000 pieces of hate mail and a dozen death threats.
For this story he told on a December morning in 1997, he had an audience of one.
The path coursed its way through his life, consistent and true: To Haskins, from his early pinnacle to his largely anonymous twilight, the game always came first.