El Paso has been called a basketball city time and time again. UTEP’s basketball programs are touted as the gems of the athletic programs at the university.
It all began with the Texas Western men’s 1966 NCAA basketball championship 50 years ago. Now UTEP is preparing a celebration in honor of the legacy left behind by the ‘60s champions.
The County of El Paso will recognize the 50th anniversary of the 1966 men’s basketball NCAA championship at the County Court House at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 1.
Along with the recognition there will be a 50th anniversary celebration game on Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. against Western Kentucky University.
Student tickets will be available from now until Feb. 4 and no guest tickets will be up for sale for this game.
The Texas Western Miners and the Kentucky Wildcats met on March 19, 1966, and this matchup was unlike any game played in college basketball at the time.
Head coach of the Miners, Don Haskins, went against the grain by starting five black players against an all-white Kentucky team.
The Miners went on to defeat the Wildcats with a score of 72 -65.
El Paso Times sports writer Bill Knight was one of the many who watched the 1966 game unfold.
Knight was in Dallas playing basketball for UT Arlington at the time and said that he knew the importance of the game and what it meant for sports in the United States.
When Knight became a sports writer for the El Paso Times in the late 1980s, he was able to cover UTEP basketball and create a working relationship with Haskins.
Knight even traveled with the team to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2007 to cover their induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Knight said that he has seen the pride that the championship brought to the city and how it lives on even after 50 years.
“I think they are proud of the fact that they won the national championship first of all,” Knight said. “Secondly, and probably just as importantly, that it was such a significant national championship.”
Senior multidisciplinary studies major and UTEP basketball guard Tevin Caldwell moved to El Paso 11 years ago and remembered realizing the importance of the 1966 championship when he was a senior at Americas High School.
Caldwell said that now, as a basketball player for UTEP, he sees how important the championship is for UTEP fans.
“It’s definitely something that the city takes pride in,” Caldwell said. “I know a lot of UTEP fans and every time I run into them they always bring it up. You know, ‘take us back to the championship, or 1966’ and all that stuff. It gives me, as a basketball player, motivation to accomplish something and to bring joy to the city again.”
Although many in the city and the university are reminiscing on the history that was made half a century ago, some say that this championship is overlooked by many current students that have parents that weren’t yet born in 1966.
Senior psychology major Fernando Hernandez said that many current students have told him that they had never heard of “Glory Road” or of the 1966 national championship.
Hernandez played for Haskins in the ‘90s and said that because of the NCAA championship, he decided to stay in his hometown to play basketball.
“When you are a basketball player and you are trying to find a school to play at, you are looking for a school that has had a legacy and I was just lucky enough since I was local,” Hernandez said. “I grew up dreaming of playing for that program and playing for coach Haskins. Being a part of that team was something very prestigious and something very special.”
Now with the 50th anniversary a little over a month away, the UTEP community is preparing itself for celebrations.
The basketball program, although not likely to bring home an NCAA championship this year, continues to use history as a motivator for the future.
“It gives us, as a basketball team, hope,” Caldwell said.
Amanda Guillen may be reached at [email protected]