When I received my ballot a couple of months ago to vote on this
year's candidates for induction into the Naismith Memorial
Basketball Hall of Fame, the first box I checked was next to the
name Don Haskins, the coach at UTEP (formerly Texas Western)
since 1961. This was the first year that the 65-year-old
Haskins, one of the game's revolutionary figures, had gotten
through the nomination process, and I hoped that he would make
it into the Hall. He didn't--18 of the 24 voters must vote yes to
ensure induction, and Haskins fell short. (Exact totals are not
Whatever else they do, halls of fame must recognize those
players and coaches who truly alter the course of their sport.
Haskins did that on March 19, 1966, when he sent five black
players from Texas Western onto the court in College Park, Md.,
and beat Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky team 72-65 to win the
NCAA championship. College basketball was never the same. The
racially discriminatory recruiting policies of schools like
Kentucky were revealed as not only odious but also stupid.
And it's not as if Haskins stopped living after 1966. He has won
more games (675) than some fairly well known rivals, two of them
named Wooden and Knight. Over his 35 years at the El Paso
school, Haskins has taken the Miners to 14 NCAA and seven NIT
tournaments and helped develop many coaches, including a former
player who won an NCAA championship at Arkansas, Nolan Richardson.
Haskins's failure to make the Hall was disappointing but not
surprising. Over the years I've frequently mentioned his name
and drawn only blank stares from fans, players, even other
journalists who were unaware of this crusty man who wears
clip-on ties, wrinkled white shirts and a perpetual scowl. Heck,
in 15 years of covering basketball for this publication, I made
it down to El Paso only once, more than a decade ago, to write
about Haskins. With his customary clunky diplomacy, he gave me a
pair of basketball sneakers, ugly, heavy things that I gave to a
friend who uses them for weightlifting. "They're still going
strong," my friend reports.
For the moment, Haskins is not--he had triple-bypass surgery
three weeks ago. But he's expected to be back on the sidelines
next year and back on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. To the
other voters: Don't slight him again.