Fifty years ago, a small school in West Texas quietly climbed the national collegiate basketball rankings. Against all odds, the team achieved the impossible: an NCAA title after starting five African-American players in the championship game. The win has been a point of pride for The University of Texas at El Paso ever since.
It was March 19, 1966, in College Park, Maryland, when UTEP (then called Texas Western College) beat top-ranked Kentucky 72-65 in the title game — a game that forever changed college athletics. Legendary Coach Don Haskins made history by starting five African-American players, the first time that had been done in an NCAA basketball championship game. After the 1966 championship, college teams throughout the South began aggressively recruiting black athletes, ending years of segregation. The Southeastern Conference admitted its first African-American basketball player in 1967.
Members of the 1966 championship team came to the UTEP campus in early February 2016 to participate in the 50th anniversary celebration. Events included the filming of a CBS Sports Network documentary: “1966 Texas Western: Championship of Change,” the recreation of the iconic team photo on the steps of Memorial Gym, and the presentation of lifetime memberships to the UTEP Alumni Association for the team members.