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Spencer Parlier | | March 19, 2020

How Texas Western's 1966 national championship changed college sports forever

Watch full game: Texas Western vs. Kentucky in the 1966 National Championship

March 19, 2020, is the 54th anniversary of Texas Western's historic national championship when the school out of El Paso knocked off an Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky team 72-65 in 1966. 

Texas Western and head coach Don Haskins started five African-American players in the nationally televised championship game — a decision that has gone down as one of the seminal moments in college basketball and sports history. It was the first time a team started five African-American players in the title game.

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"Obviously the historical context of this was unbelievable," Dan Wetzel, author of "Glory Road," a book he wrote alongside Don Haskins about he 1966 Texas Western team, told Andy Katz on the latest edition of March Madness 365.

Wetzel's interview with Andy Katz begins about 40 minutes into the podcast. This week's episode also includes interviews with former Princeton point guard Mitch Henderson, BYU great Danny Ainge, former Nevada head coach Eric Musselman and former Illinois player Roger Powell Jr.  

"Back in that era, there were teams that had African-Americans playing, but there was none in the Southwestern conference, which is basically all of Texas and Oklahoma, none in the SEC and none in the ACC," Wetzel said. "(There was) nothing in the south, no African-American players."

Haskins grew up playing basketball in Oklahoma with best friend Herman Carr, an African-American kid from the same town. He grew up and became no ordinary coach.

"He had an all-black starting five for the entire year," Wetzel said. "He certainly heard about it on the road and all that, but there was nothing that was going to change his thing. He just said, 'I'm playing my best players and that's all there's going to be.'"

Nationally televised college basketball games were rare in the 1960s, Wetzel said. Texas Western's five black starters didn't catch the eyes of the country until they went up against an all-white Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky team in the national championship. The starters were Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley, Harry Flournoy and David Lattin. 

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The influence that game had on black families across the country was massive, Wetzel said. 

"There's just no way any other college basketball game had this impact," Wetzel said. "Right away, they started taking [black] players across the south. So you think about the impact that that had on the number of families that all the sudden their kids could get a college scholarship, and not just basketball but football and track, and baseball, and whatever it was."

Texas Western's national championship run is a No. 1 seed in our Best March Madness moments of all-time bracket. Fans can vote on each matchup on Twitter and winners will advance to the next round. 

Andy Katz explains the March Madness Moments bracket

The March Madness 365 podcast is a weekly podcast covering all things college basketball. You can listen and subscribe to the podcast here, on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and Stitcher.

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