As part of my preparation for my NCAA Tournament bracket, I usually check out teams from the mid-major and small conferences on Thursdays and Fridays just to get an idea of who they are and how I think they’d match up against the high-major and power conference teams in The Big Dance. The mid-major team I focused on last night was Western Kentucky (16-6, 8-1 Conference USA). They looked as good as the team that grinded it out with Villanova back in November and in that nailbiter at Wisconsin. Their opponent, UTEP, sucked though. Speaking of their opponent, they certainly don’t resemble anything close to perhaps the most significant college basketball team of all time. That brings me to this week’s Black History subject in the Flashback Friday series: the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners.
How I first came across this subject? Obviously, I wasn’t born when the Texas Western Miners were hooping in the mid-60s. I learned about this particular Miners team during Black History Month in 1999. My social studies teacher—a dude named Mr. Schremp, whom looked a lot like Ric Flair—was a big sports fan and introduced the class to the team alongside other notable Blacks in the history of sports.
What it meant to me then? My interest in the 1965-66 Miners was high back then. I researched them at the library and saw they beat one of Adolph Rupp’s best Kentucky teams. I was so intrigued that I rooted for them in the 1999 WAC Conference Tournament. They lost in the 1st round, by the way.
What it means to me now? Today, I’m still in awe of the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners…even more so now than I was previously. All across the landscape of college basketball, you see all-black teams. They exist in near entirety in the SWAC and MEAC conferences, where the HBCUs reside. They exist in most of the power conferences and in the tiers below them. But in the mid-60s, when the country’s social landscape was still a hot button issue—with racial prejudice being legal and all—it wasn’t something you saw on such a national stage. A team that featured a starting lineup consisting entirely of Black Americans playing in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament Championship Game wasn’t supposed to happen…certainly not alongside a blue blood such as Kentucky. Being there was a feat by itself. Actually winning the game was almost magical. One of these days, probably when I visit Tucson and Santa Fe as part of Bucket List Item 55, I might stop through the UTEP campus and check out the exhibit on the team at the Don Haskins Center.