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September 20, 2014

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Remembering Don Haskins: Cub reporter’s brush with ‘The Bear’

My hometown of El Paso, Texas, is in mourning this week because its most beloved resident, Don Haskins, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at age 78.

Haskins, a basketball Hall of Famer, smashed the color barrier in college basketball in 1966, when he started five black players against the University of Kentucky's white team and beat them to win the national championship. His was an amazing story, and even though it was immortalized in the movie "Glory Road," Haskins really never got the credit he was due, in the opinion of most of us El Pasoans.

Texas Western became the University of Texas at El Paso and Haskins spent his entire college coaching career at the school, something that is unheard of these days.

When I was a cub reporter for The Prospector, UTEP's student newspaper, I learned, up close and personal, why Haskins was nicknamed "The Bear."

Haskins was a big man in more ways than one, and I had been reporting on the travails of one his players. One day I was over at the campus police headquarters gathering information about the player's latest run-in with the law and I was challenging a police officer about whether or not the school was covering up for the player. In walked Haskins, rumpled and red-faced but projecting a force of nature aura. The police officer told Haskins who I was and why I was there, and Coach stood over me and literally growled something like, "You better make sure you get all the facts straight, son." Then I was dismissed so he could talk to the police brass alone.

I've always been practically fearless when it comes to reporting, even when I was just a rookie. Governors, mayors, future presidents, FBI agents, killers, drug lords never fazed me.

But if Haskins had yelled at me to take a lap around the building, I would have sprinted.

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