Special to ESPN.com
To understand where the college basketball season of 1966 started, how it started, go back beyond Hollywood, beyond El Paso, Texas, and all the way across those dirt roads to Enid, Okla., where Don Haskins and his best friend, Herman Carr, played one-on-one every day under a sun-baked sky.
Carr was African-American and the best player in town. He could score from everywhere on the floor. He could pass. He could defend. Herman Carr could do it all. Yet the big stories in the newspaper were about Haskins and high school games. They were calling Haskins an All-State player, an All-American, and he never could understand the logic of it all.
He would ask himself, "How can I be an All-American when I haven't even played the best players in the state of Oklahoma?" And he would wonder this: How could I have 100 scholarship offers to colleges across the country, when the best player in Enid had to pack up and join the Army to play basketball?
"We played a lot of one-on-one," Haskins said by phone from El Paso the other day. "We found out at a young age that there wasn't much difference between us, except for color. Well, one day we went to the fountain in front of the feed store to get a drink. And there it said, 'coloreds only,' and 'whites only.' That was a hell of a note, that he couldn't drink from the same fountain as me.
"I ended up going to Oklahoma A&M, and Herman went to the Army. We lost touch for a few years, but got back together at a function for me in Enid, where Herman came down and sat right beside me. There was a day when that wouldn't have worked, but that experience had a lot to do with what happened in the rest of my life."
Don Haskins didn't have just a Hall of Fame season in '66 at Texas-Western, the inspiration for the movie "Glory Road," but a Hall of Fame career at what would later become Texas-El Paso. In the beginning, he would win with black players that no one else would recruit. Later, Haskins would win with city kids that no one else tried to recruit.
Through it all, Haskins had 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament success with far less talent, and far fewer resources than most of the schools he had to beat. Grab his book with author Dan Wetzel -- also called "Glory Road" -- a memoir told to Wetzel as they drove for miles in the coach's old truck across the dusty roads of West Texas. The book isn't just the story of an improbable basketball season, but an improbable basketball life.
Along the way, that's been lost with Haskins. He wasn't just about a historic season, but an original, historic American life.
"If there's one thing that ever does get irritating, it's that sometimes people think it's the only team we ever had there," Haskins said.
Haskins loves the movie "Glory Road," but he never begged people to make the movie. He loves that team, the season, that story. He didn't make it to Hollywood for the premiere, because Don Haskins is a lot of things in this world, but he isn't about the red carpets and fancy suits. Haskins is a shot of tequila and a rumpled pair of blue jeans. In a profession of phonies and copycats, Haskins is an original. He's a coach's coach.
If nothing else, the movie makes sure his players from the '66 team were never forgotten, makes sure that people finally understand that all those nasty things that national magazines and rival coaches said about that '66 team, about who his guys were and where they were from, were never true. Haskins is glad to see his championship players get a chance to take a bow in life, to show that they've gone onto good lives and good careers.
Haskins never wanted this curtain call. He'll take it, but he's never sought it. At a time when coaches want ticker-tape parades for crossing the street without committing an NCAA violation, Haskins is the truest of the anti-establishment coaches.
Eventually, the hate mail -- the letters that always began "Dear N----- Lover" -- turned to beautiful stories of Americans (both black and white) writing and telling him what that '66 team meant to them, what it meant to sports in this country. The rest of those teams at UTEP, though, they meant so much to Haskins, too.
When he arrived at UTEP, Tim Hardaway had one scholarship offer, to Eastern Illinois, and no jump shot. Tiny Archibald had 125 pounds on his bony body when he bussed down from New York City. And Antonio Davis was so gawky, Haskins had to redshirt him as a freshman.
"I did have some other teams, some other seasons," Haskins said. "In '64, we could've won it all. I think my favorite teams were probably some where we had kids who really overachieved. That wasn't the case in '66, with that group."
No, it wasn't. That was a great college team that ultimately beat the long odds of hate in America. Still, it was a part of an unforgettable season in an unforgettable coaching career. Don Haskins' story, his career, was always something bigger, something far more profound than 1966. That happened to be a forever season in a forever coach's career.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His New York Times best-selling book will be released in paperback on Jan. 19 and can purchased on Amazon.com.