Coach Haskins had taken the Head Coaching position at Texas Western the year before. It was the last season for the Border Conference. His first season signaled a change in Miners basketball, as the team posted an 18-6 record.
Before I continue, I need to go back a little. The Head Coach of the Miners in 1953 was George McCarty. Most Miners fans have an intense dislike for UTEP’s biggest, longest rival, New Mexico State. But, as much as I hate to say this, we are connected to NMSU, and the connection is huge.
You see, George McCarty was the Head Coach of the Aggies basketball team from 1949 through 1953. Then, he came to Texas Western to coach the Miners. He was the Miners head coach from 1953-1958. He is the second winningest basketball coach in UTEP’s history, with a 77-58 record. In 1956, Coach McCarty brought the first black basketball player to Texas Western. It was Coach McCarty who broke the color barrier at Texas Western. Charlie Brown was the first black player in a major sport in Texas, and in the states that had made up the Confederacy. Charlie Brown didn’t just break the color barrier. He broke most of the basketball records at Texas Western, too.
George McCarty became the Dean of Men at Texas Western in 1960, and in 1961 he became the Director of Athletics. It was George McCarty, who hired Don Haskins. When Don Haskins took over the team in 1961 there were already three black players on the team. In 2007, George McCarty was inducted into the UTEP Hall of Fame. The following year, he was inducted into the New Mexico State Hall of Fame.
So, some of the hard work of integration had already been done. After his first season, and with a record of 18-6, Coach Haskins would continue to build his team into a powerful force to be reckoned with. The 1962 season was the first after the breakup of the Border Conference, but 11 of the 26 games were against one time members of the Border Conference. The Miners played a tough schedule, travelling to Wisconsin to play the 6th ranked Badgers, and playing the 4th ranked Arizona team in Tuscon, and again, this time ranked 5th, in El Paso. The Miners lost those three games, and four more, but won 19 games that season. They had played the Cowboys of Oklahoma State eight times during the years of 1953 through 1961, and had lost eight times to Coach Haskins’ Alma Mater. The 1962 team got their win over Coach Haskins’ mentor, Coach Henry Iba.
The 1963 season was a look at what the future would hold for Texas Western’s basketball team. The team won 25 games and lost just 3. They travelled to #5 Wichita State and won. This team, Coach Haskins believed, could have been the first Miners team to win the National Championship had Jim “Bad News” Barnes not fouled out in only eight minutes of play in the 64-60 loss to Kansas State, in the NCAA Tournament.
In the 1964 season, the Miners record was 19-6. The Miners travelled again to Wichita State to play the 2nd ranked team, and lost. The team was good enough to go to the National Invitational Tournament, but lost to Manhattan.
The 1965 team is the team that went 28-1, and in March of 1966 this team beat Kentucky to win the National Championship, and change the sporting world forever. Much has been written, and the film Glory Road told the story of this team. Many before me have told the story much better than I ever could, and any Miners fan worth their salt knows the story, so I will leave it a that.
The 1966 team was also a power house team. The Miners went 22-6 that season. They lost a game to #5 ranked New Mexico, but won their next game against Kansas. In the NCAA first round of post season play, the Miners got a little revenge, beating Seattle. In the second round of the Tournament, the Miners lost their first game to Pacific, and won their last game, beating future WAC foe, Wyoming, 69-67.
The 1967 team had a record of 14-9. This season included wins over Arizona, Mayland, San Francisco, and Arizona State twice. Losses included losses to Iowa, Illinois, NMSU (twice), BYU, #6 New Mexico, and Seattle (twice, payback is a bitch).
The 1969 season would be the Miners last as an Independent. The team’s record for the season was 16-9. The team travelled to Albuquerque and lost to #5 New Mexico, but when the #5 Lobos came down to El Paso, the Miners won that game. In January the team lost to #& New Mexico State, Seattle again, and another game to this time the #15th ranked NMSU.
The following season, the Miners would begin a long and winning period of basketball from 1969 through 2004 as members of the Western Athletic Conference.