State of the Hogs: Glory Road

FAYETTEVILLE -- Based on a true story. That's Hollywood for "a lot of this is probably true." That's what it says somewhere during "Glory Road," the just-released basketball movie about the run the school then known as Texas Western made to win the 1965 NCAA basketball tournament.

It was close enough to suit me, especially since I know a lot of the stuff the moviemakers changed about the real story. Didn't bother me a bit that they reworked things, stretched other aspects and generally juiced up history for dramatic effect.

Never mind that Don Haskins already had several seasons under his belt at Texas Western when the Miners won it all in 1965. Never mind that he wasn't even the first coach at the school to recruit black student-athletes. Never mind that some of the scenes were complete fabrications.

I loved every bit of it. So did others I polled close to the Arkansas basketball scene, including some of the current Razorback players who saw the movie on the Friday night before the team won at Auburn. Arkansas coach Stan Heath liked it and was glad his players got to see the movie. Heath appreciated that UA trainer Dave England was along for the night out and could explain things in more detail since he knew many of the key players in the movie.

"Dave gave us a lot of insight because of his background with Coach (Nolan) Richardson and because many of those people were Nolan's friends and often came to Fayetteville to see him," Heath said. "He could tell us what was on target and what was stretching the truth a little bit."

Simply, Heath called it "a good movie. I was a history major and it's good to take a look back. The south has changed, but that was a glimpse of what it was like. I was born in 1964, so I had no real information other than I knew Texas-El Paso (then Texas Western) won it in '65.

"Of course, it was interesting to sit with Dave. He's met so many of those people. I got an education about a lot of things from Dave."

England had heard so much of the UTEP history through the years working and traveling with Richardson. He also is heavy into the autobiography of UTEP coach Don Haskins, a man whom Richardson often quoted.

I've got some personal remembrances just like England. I remember Nolan telling me of his first meeting with Haskins. That came when Haskins rolled into town with a U-haul trailer hooked to his station wagon, just like in the movie. But the movie doesn't show Richardson sitting on the dorm steps and his first conversation with his new coach. Nolan helped the coach move into the dorm apartment the school provided its basketball coach.

As Nolan told me years ago and later confirmed by Haskins years later when I interviewed him in Fayetteville, Haskins followed the introduction by quoting Richardson's shooting statistics from the previous season. He then told his leading returning scorer, "I know you and you don't play any defense."

Haskins is played by Little Rock native Josh Lucas. Haskins even has a bit part in the movie, as a gas station attendant. The retired coach has seen the movie. Noting that history was often altered in the movie, Haskins took exception to the way he was portrayed by Lucas. He said, "I wouldn't have played for that coach."

But most of those in the UTEP athletic department now seem to accept the movie because of the notoriety it has brought to the school. I've got a nephew who works in the sports information department there and he says most of his co-workers speak kindly of the movie.

It's a fun movie, even with the sad racial issues that become the main theme in the movie. I know some of those scenes don't really happen to the 1965 team, but took place earlier in Texas Western history. Nolan spoke to me more than once about having to stay in black homes on road trips because blacks were not allowed to stay at the motels where the rest of the team headquartered.

Bobby Joe Hill joins Haskins as the central character in the film. I met Hill twice, both times when he came to Fayetteville to visit Nolan and to watch the Hogs play. He was bigger than life in real life (if that is possible) and the movie did him right.

"I thought it did, too," England said. "He came to see Nolan about twice a year, usually for games, and I was usually one of the contacts because I always made sure he had tickets to the game. Got to know him a little bit. His hair was just what you saw in the movie, curly and with a heavy dressing. He had the charm that came through in the movie."

England befriended another of the key figures, veteran UTEP trainer Ross Moore, at Texas conventions and seminars during the Hogs' old Southwest Conference days.

"Ross Moore was usually there and the younger trainers would seek him out and I was one of those," England said. "It was fun to see his part in the movie since I had met him several times."

I had wanted to talk with other members of the UA coaching staff about the movie. Their taskmaster boss, Heath, left them at the team hotel that evening to break down more opponent film in preparing scouting reports for future games.

"We didn't get to go," said Ronny Thompson, assistant coach. "We were either watching tape or recruiting. Coach Heath and Dave took them to the movie that night. I do want to see it, though."

The UA players enjoyed every aspect of the movie, from the impressive action in the game footage (there are several hammer dunks by Big Daddy David Lattin) and some fancy moves by Hill.

"That stuff was fun, but I think what I took away from the movie the most was the way the white players treated the African-American players on that team," said Jonathon "Pookie" Modica, senior captain.

"That was so refreshing because the white players embraced them and they were all about team. These were players who had their spots taken by African-American players.

"I liked the movie a lot. I learned quite a bit of history about the game. It was apparent that the African-American players had to fight through some things. You knew some of that probably did happen. I'm not so naive to think it didn't happen at some point in history as far as the resentment that was felt towards black players in the game as far as the south."

Of course, the Hogs play at Kentucky on Sunday. The Wildcats, under legendary coach Adolph Rupp, fell to the Miners in the '65 title game, played at the Maryland gym. Larry Conley, who does TV broadcasting work at many SEC games, joined Pat Riley and Louie Dampier on that UK team. UA broadcaster Mike Nail has discussed the movie with Conley.

"Larry said they did a good job of their depiction of that Kentucky team and of Coach Rupp," Nail said. "He said he enjoyed the movie, but he did mention that the guy who played him shot with the wrong hand."

We aren't going to dispute that kind of detail. But we will remind again, they said it was "based on a true story."

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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