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50 years after historic NCAA title, Texas Western trailblazers return to College Park

COLLEGE PARK — Willie Worsley spent nearly a lifetime going through the back doors of high school and college gyms, as well as pro basketball arenas, as a player and coach.

When he entered Cole Field House through the front door Saturday afternoon, along with four of his former Texas Western teammates, the sign in the lobby above what once had been a ticket window brought the significance of what they accomplished 50 years ago back to life.

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The sign noted that the 1966 NCAA men's Final Four had been played on Maryland's campus and that the little Texas school was there along with national powers Kentucky and Duke, as well as Utah.

What it didn't mention was that in upsetting the heavily favored and top-ranked Wildcats, 72-65, the Miners became the first team to win a championship with five African-American starters.

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"Anyone who loved to be a part of history, anyone who loved to be talked about 50 years after the event — and if you don't understand that, look at the joy on our face and the love in our heart. Thank you, guys, for keeping us alive for 50 years," Worsley, the team's feisty point guard, said later at an event to honor the team before Saturday's Maryland-Wisconsin game at Xfinity Center.

History has told us about Texas Western coach Don Haskins deciding to use only his African-American players after hearing his Kentucky counterpart, the legendary Adolph Rupp, say a team with black players was incapable of beating his Wildcats, despite the fact that the Miners had lost only once.

History has told us that two first-half steals by Bobby Joe Hill against Kentucky star Pat Riley shook the confidence of Rupp's team, and that a thunderous put-back dunk by David "Big Daddy" Lattin in the second half gave the Miners a 60-51 lead and a sense that the game was all but over.

As the former Texas Western players said Saturday, history didn't tell us the complete story.

History didn't tell us how Haskins summoned only his African-American players to a hotel room near the College Park campus shared by Lattin and Bobby Joe Hill, the team's star guard.

"Coach Haskins obviously had something else in mind," Lattin recalled Saturday. "He kind of looked around the room and said, 'It's up to you.' And he walked out of the room. Everybody looked at each other. We had no idea what he was talking about.

"We didn't know he was just going to play only the African-American players. The other guys walked out, and Bobby looked at me and I looked at Bobby and he said, 'We're not going to lose this game.' I said: 'You're right.' "

Said Nevil Shed: "The attitude we had was that losing was not an option"

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History didn't tell us about the look on Riley's face after Lattin's dunk.

"He was shocked," said Willie Cager, who is confined to a wheelchair after suffering a stroke several years ago.

History didn't tell us that NCAA officials at Cole Field House couldn't find a ladder for the Miners to stand on in order to cut down the nets. Or that the Texas Western players were as resourceful as they had been on the court, with "little Willie climbing on top of my head," Shed recalled.

Shed became emotional Saturday as he recalled how the 1966 Final Four marked the first time his father ever saw him play in a basketball game. After the final horn sounded, Shed said he walked off the court with a teammate looking for his father.

"I pointed to my father," said Shed, his voice catching. "That was my way of thanking my champion for all the hard work and the things that he went through to nourish me, so I could have that chance to become an NCAA champion."

Considering that the 1966 NCAA tournament final was aired on tape delay, many were unaware of what Texas Western (now Texas at El Paso) had done. When Shed went back to his Bronx neighborhood in New York that summer wearing a sweatshirt that read "TWC," people were perplexed.

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"Nobody knew what TWC stood for: 'Texas Women's College,' 'Teeny Weeny College,' " Shed said Saturday with a laugh. "But it said '1966 NCAA champions.' That's what it showed."

It wasn't until years later, after his brief pro career ended quickly when he tore up a knee in training camp with the Boston Celtics, that Shed began to understand the significance of the victory.

"I was coaching at the University of Wyoming and I had my ring on, and this football player came over and said, 'Bobby Joe Hill, Big Daddy Lattin, Nevil Shed,' " he recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, that's me.' He said: 'I just want to thank you for what you did some time ago. My father was a great football player and could not go to a big school. What you did, you opened the doors so that individuals such as myself could go, if qualified.' "

Lattin, who played two seasons in the NBA and four more in the American Basketball Association, said Texas Western's victory not only gave African-American athletes a chance to play at major colleges, including Kentucky, where Rupp recruited his first black player four years later. It also "made it possible for the other young African-Americans as well. It helped open doors for everybody."

Lattin's grandson, Khadeem Lattin, is the starting center for No. 3 Oklahoma.

"We don't talk about it a lot," David Lattin said Saturday. "We talked about it a little when we watched the movie ['Glory Road,' which came out in 2006] a couple of times. We looked at the games we played, but he's so young."

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Perhaps Lattin's grandson and others will learn more if they read his soon-to-be-published book, "Slam Dunk To Glory." Depending on how much of Cole Field House is preserved when the school's new athletic performance center opens, others will learn about Texas Western as well.

As the group was about to leave Cole Field House for Xfinity Center, where they were introduced to the announced sellout crowd during the game, Shed looked around. Given that he had not been back in a half-century, he knew it would probably be for the last time.

"We were given the chance, and the eyes were opened," Shed said. "I remember in the movie, they asked if you ever thought colored guys could master basketball as we do. It's out there, and I guess you can say: 'Yes, we are legends.' "

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56


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