From Publishers Weekly
Sportswriter Wetzel confronted an odd kind of problem when coauthoring the autobiography of Don Haskins, Texas college basketball icon and inadvertent civil rights pioneer. Instead of embellishing his story or telling the account of how, as a coach, he single-handedly changed college basketball in 1966 by winning the NCAA championship with five black starters, the comically humble Haskins "pretends it didn't matter, or, most often, that it didn't even happen in the first place." Such is the charm of Haskins, who became a living legend by coaching at Texas Miners College (now University of Texas–El Paso) from 1961 to 1999, but never let the fame get to him (although Haskins is not a saint: he's a vicious pool hustler and a terrorizing coach who wouldn't even let his players have water during practice). Although the book is ostensibly about the 1966 game against the all-white powerhouse University of Kentucky, Haskins's laconic retelling almost renders it anticlimactic. Still, Haskins can't mask the drama of the aftermath: within months of his team's victory, "the floodgates opened" and college teams everywhere started fielding black players. Cross-promotion with the January 13 release of the Disney film
Glory Road. (Dec.)
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*Starred Review* Don Haskins was 34 years old when he coached the Texas Western Miners to the NCAA basketball championship in a game that most sports historians agree fundamentally altered college athletics. Haskins' starters and top-two reserves were black--the first time in history that had happened. The Miners defeated all-white Kentucky and its legendarily racist coach, Adolph Rupp, in the finals. In this mesmerizing autobiography, Haskins rejects such labels as trailblazer or social pioneer. He says instead he was simply an obsessed coach who recruited the best players he could get--despite unofficial quotas on black players--and drove them mercilessly. He also says that his university--now known as the University of Texas at El Paso--had integrated its basketball team almost a decade earlier, and the ethnic diversity of the town mitigated most of the racial tension one might have expected in another setting. That's not to say that he and his players didn't undergo plenty of trials. The author's modesty aside, what makes this book such compelling reading is that Haskins is a one-of-a-kind character--a man who chose never to leave his relatively obscure post, preferring smoky small-town Texas cantinas to, well, just about anyplace. There will be a major film this winter based on Texas Western's 1966 season, so expect significant demand for Haskins' book. But no matter the quality of the movie, this is one of the best sports autobiographies in many years. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved