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the bear IN Winter
Alexander Wolff
March 01, 1999
His UTEP Miners are only a shadow of the team that wrought a basketball revolution by winning the 1966 NCAA title, yet coach Don Haskins has no recourse but to sit tight through these rocky times
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March 01, 1999

The Bear In Winter

His UTEP Miners are only a shadow of the team that wrought a basketball revolution by winning the 1966 NCAA title, yet coach Don Haskins has no recourse but to sit tight through these rocky times

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Then he offers a deflective yarn: "We were in Dallas the next year [after beating Kentucky] to play SMU. Took a call before the game from someone who promised, 'I'm gonna shoot your nigger-loving ass.' Shed was running around in the pregame huddle. Asked him what he was doing, and he said, 'Figure if I'm a moving target, I'll be tougher to hit.'

"I told the FBI and the police about that, sure. But you might be the first one other than them I've told. What was to be gained by going public with all that? Was just some redneck. Some crackpot."

There's only one problem with Haskins's failure to recall the stories that Richardson and Stoglin tell. He has a snare of a memory. He ticks off phone numbers on demand. He summons in a trice details about people and places from his past. His former players say this: When he tells you he doesn't recall, don't believe it. He remembers everything. "I know him like a book," says Richardson. "I guarantee you he's not going to say he did what he did. He doesn't want any type of credit for anything."

Adds Stoglin, "Don Haskins is one of the most honest people I've ever known. The only time he won't be honest is if you say something good about him."

It's still exam period, and UTEP has a new opponent with which to stagger through a game: Texas Southern, a historically black college in Houston that lost its chance to attract the best African-American players in the land because of what Haskins and Texas Western did 33 years ago. The crowd in the Don Haskins Center seems beset with the same indifference afflicting the Miners. "Awwwwwright!" says the man on the mike, with a kind of dutiful enthusiasm. "Time for some noise!" Nothing happens. Only with a late effort do the Miners flick Texas Southern away.

Afterward Haskins repairs to an RV parked in the lot outside the arena. If there were a Don Haskins Center true to its eponym, this would be it: a structure small and anonymous, with wheels attached so that, on a whim, it might take a man up into the hills for the day. Haskins and two doctor friends call the place the Swamp Cooler. Its owner—a pediatric dentist named Hampton Briggs—and Bill Dickey, a urologist who serves as an unofficial team physician, meet Haskins there after many home games.

The Scotch pours forth, more stories do too, with Haskins doing most of the talking: "There was that time David Lattin was getting a little chesty, so we left him at home for the Utah State game, and we passed him hitchhiking on the highway, but David made it to Logan anyhow and said we'd never have another problem with him again, and we didn't....

"...and the pecan orchards outside La Mesilla, which you oughta see in the springtime, when they're green and the boughs arch out over the road, and be sure to stop by Chopie's on Highway 28 on your way back, but only between noon and 1:30, 'cause they're closed the rest of the time....

"...out there where the land's so fertile it could make you cry, so why wouldn't a man sink twenty-two-five into growing lettuce, though I'm not into playing that game anymore....

"...and I'll never vote for another Republican again, not after what they've done to that guy, though it's a mess of things he's made in Iraq....

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