In the 1979 Final Four in Salt Lake City, Larry Bird of Indiana State, who had not talked much all season, was chirping like a canary about his 33-0 Sycamores. "The Final Four means more to my teammates than it does to me," he said. "I thought we should have been here last year. If we win or lose it don't make no difference to me. I'm gonna get my money anyway."
When it was over, 75-64 to Magic Johnson and Michigan State, Bird sat on the bench sobbing into a towel.
Doggie Julian, the Holy Cross coach, in the locker room before the 1947 NCAA championship game: "Dermy, you start, and George, you start, and Kaftan, you start, and O'Connell, you start, and Greek, you start." Both Dermy and O'Connell were one Dermott O'Connell while George, Kaftan and Greek were all George Kaftan. But the Cross figured it out, put five men on the court (freshman Bob Cousy came off the bench) and beat Oklahoma 58-47.
Trivia. Who is the only man from a fourth-place team to win the outstanding player award in the Final Four? Answer: Jerry Chambers of Utah in 1966.
The Coach. Don Haskins was 36 years old when his Texas Western Miners won the national championship. That was 20 years ago, and Haskins—his school is now known as Texas-El Paso—hasn't been back. Hasn't been close.
It was a different era then—a line from the 1966 Final Four preview in this magazine read: "All seven of the Texas Western regulars are Negroes...." The victory, over Kentucky's all-white squad ( Rupp's last of six Final Four teams, and one of only two to lose), shocked the nation but, as Haskins says, "It was surprising to everyone but us. Our team simply thought they'd never lose."
The thing was, Haskins seemed to recognize every nuance of his team's opportunity. He says now, "I should have enjoyed it more." But back then he was an unknown coach from an unknown school, venturing into the vast unknown. Aspirin and cigarettes were his staples at the team motel in College Park, Md., the Final Four site, and Haskins constantly mused over the once-in-a-lifetime experience. He called himself "a young punk" and explained how it was "a thrill just playing against Mr. Rupp, let alone beating him." More than once he concluded, "This may never happen to me again."
Observers were no less stunned at the shrill way he treated his crew—among them Nevil (The Shadow) Shed and David (Big Daddy D) Lattin—than at the players' meek obeisance. "Isn't this the laziest bunch you've ever seen?" the coach yelled at a practice after benching Bobby Joe Hill, the little guard who would steal the title right away from Kentucky All-America Louie Dampier.
At a team meeting before the semifinal game with Utah, everyone was sitting around a motel room when Haskins looked over in the corner, and there was Hill...fast asleep, a toothpick hanging out of his mouth.
Of Rupp, Haskins said, "I really wonder whether he knows who I am yet." Then, on championship eve, his thoughts were disrupted by something else: a gang of Maryland students carousing in the motel parking lot. Haskins was afraid they would wake his players, so he invited the besotted collegians into his room. And then, through the early hours of the day he would win the national championship, he drank beer and shot the breeze with a group of kids he had never seen before.