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Texas Western v. Kentucky, a win for civil rights

January 17, 2011

By Ethan Burch, Sports Editor

Referred to my many as “the game,” this match-up was thought to have changed college basketball forever. What could be so special about one game that would set it above the rest in the minds of sports fans, though?

The game being referred to is the 1966 NCAA Championship game that took place in College Park, MD between Texas Western University and the University of Kentucky on March 19, 1966. However, the impact of this game goes beyond Texas Western’s National Championship win, though.

Texas Western entered the game with a starting line-up consisting of 5 black players, while the starting line-up of Kentucky featured 5 white players. Between this move, which many considered to be a bold one by Texas Western Men’s Basketball Head Coach Don Haskins, the small size of Texas Western in comparison to Kentucky and the powerhouse of a program that Kentucky had built with 4 NCAA titles by 1966, all odds were against Texas Western.

If you have seen the film Glory Road, which depicts the story of Coach Don Haskins on their journey to the championship game, then you know where this story is going and the implications that were faced by Texas Western for starting 5 black players.

Though this was not the first time that a black player had participated in an NCAA Championship, it was the first time that a squad had an all-black starting line-up.

Not only was this a factor that many held against Texas Western going into the game, but Kentucky was the front runner in all of college basketball with four at the time.

Kentucky was led by Head Coach Adolph Rupp and players such as Pat Riley and Louie Dampier. For those unfamiliar with those names, Adolph Rupp is the coach for which Kentucky’s basketball arena is now named, and Pat Riley would go on to coach in and win an NBA championship with the Miami Heat.

The squad of Texas Western, now known as Texas El-Paso, featured names such as Bobby Joe Hill, David “Big Daddy D” Lattin, Harry Flourney and Nevil Shed. Many stereotypes of black players led fans to believe that all black players were incapable of running an offense correctly; this would eventually lead to a Texas Western meltdown in the championship game. All signs pointed to Kentucky as the pre-game favorite heading into the championship game.

These predictions proved to be untrue, as Texas Western found ways to rotate the ball a number of times to find open looks on the offensive end.

The dramatic journey for the Texas Western squad would end in victorious fashion; and as 5’10 guard Bobby Joe Hill scored 20 points, this paced the Miners to a 72-65 championship victory over Rupp and Kentucky.

This game goes beyond the final score, though. Instead, it cleared a path for African-American players in all of basketball to make a name and find victory. It is a story such as this that can be looked back on as we honor the day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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