Thousands attend memorial for UTEP coach Haskins

EL PASO, Texas -- Thousands of people filled the Don Haskins Center on the UTEP campus on Thursday night to remember the basketball coach in a memorial service that took on the atmosphere of a college game.

The arena's television screens showed a 1997 roast of Haskins, known to the basketball world as "The Bear" and to fans and players as simply "Coach," while a spotlight shone on the 1966 NCAA national championship banner.

The scoreboard was lit up with the final score of that game -- Texas Western College, 72, Kentucky 65 -- as it was during a public viewing for Haskins on Tuesday.

Haskins died Sunday. He was 78.

The Texas-El Paso marching band was on hand and former referee Irv Brown even stood guard with a whistle to cut off speakers who went over their allotted time in a service that was expected to last three hours.

Former players, coaches and others praised Haskins for his dedication to his players and offered censored versions of stories of a coach known as much for his skill as his colorful language.

"Coach Haskins lived to be a winner not just in the Xs and Os," said Nevil Shed, one of Haskins' starters on the 1966 team. "And he instilled in us that on the court you had to do your best, but after all this basketball you have to be a winner in life. Each and every one of his players still has a good portion of Coach Haskins in them."

Shed, the first to get the foul whistle from Brown, recalled fondly that while there were times -- mostly in the midst of seemingly endless practice -- he hated Haskins he's a better man for having played for him.

"I can always say I thank God for my mother and father and I can say thank God for Don Haskins and all he did for me," Shed said.

Nolan Richardson, who played for Haskins during his first two years in El Paso and was a national champions as a coach at Arkansas, recalled seeing Haskins and his wife, Mary, arrive as a young coach in 1961. He said Haskins told him he couldn't "guard a telegraph pole" and suggested he stick to football.

"He was not political and you loved him for it," Richardson said. "What you saw was what you got. And I loved that so much. I tried to emulate that in my career. The championships we won (at Arkansas) with our kids, it all came from The Bear."

Before taking the podium Thursday, Richardson described Haskins as a "mentor and a good friend."

"You are talking about a crown jewel," Richardson said.

Richardson said while Haskins never acknowledged knowing what it meant for him to start to five black players in the 1966 championship game against an all-white Kentucky squad, he believes Haskins always knew what he was doing.

"He was a simple man with values," Richardson said. "Had he known the values he had maybe he wouldn't have been so good."

Countless friends and former players, including Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis, filled the arena's floor Thursday.

Those who knew Haskins best said this week that he would have hated the spectacle of thousands of people paying tribute to him. But family friend Jim Paul said this was the one time they didn't give Haskins a vote.