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Official Review by Jason Bartel, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
“You'll play basketball my way. My way is hard.” – Don Haskins
The 1966 Texas Western College men’s basketball team is arguably the most important college basketball team in the history of the sport. That Texas Western team took down Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats to win the NCAA National Championship, and became the first team to start five black players. Though they didn’t play at Don Haskins Center (opened 10 years later), the presence of that team is felt throughout the arena. It was only one year, and it happened nearly 50 years ago, but it is still quite breathtaking to see everything that is associated with that team throughout the building.
In 1967, Texas Western changed their name to University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Haskins stayed at UTEP until 1999, and then passed away in 2008 in El Paso.
UTEP currently competes in Conference USA, with the likes of Memphis and SMU. The Miners current head coach is Tim Floyd, most notably the former head coach at USC during the OJ Mayo days. Floyd is looking to return UTEP back to national prominence, and he has quite the historical building to do that in.
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"Taco? Nacho? Burrito?" "No, I'm looking for el hot dog-o."
One of the things missing from Don Haskins Center is a decent food selection. Yes, they serve beer at all of the concession stands for $7-$10, which is weird for me to see coming from Arizona. Other than that, they have $4 hot dogs and sodas, nachos, candy, and that's pretty much it. The concourse is essentially an octagon around the entire arena, with a concession stand in each of the 8 hallways. A couple hallways have stands set up by "Delicious Mexican Food". The Delicious people also do a giveaway during one of the media timeouts where they have a guy in a Mexican wrestling costume come out on to the court and throw burritos to lucky fans.
There truly is no bad seat at "The Don". There are no aisles that run through the seating area, so every section goes continuously from the floor to the ceiling. This allows 12,000 fans to fill up the stands and be close to the action, even at the very top. The UTEP logo at center court faces the west side, with the UTEP bench in the southeast corner, and the visiting bench in the northeast corner. The north end of Don Haskins Center is the student section, where the students, their guests, and the band sit. That area is general admission, but the rest of the arena is assigned seating.
The pep band and dance team, which has a very unfortunate name (Gold Diggers), take up a pretty large chunk of the center section of the student area. The band doesn't do too much during the game, it was mostly stuff played over the PA that got the crowd more into the game. The dance team is enormous, and performs during media timeouts pretty regularly. Almost every media timeout also has some kind of contest or promotion.
There are four scoreboards, one in each corner, with different stats for either the team or individual players depending on the scoreboard. The actual score of the game is not very easy to find sometimes among all the numbers that they can display. Each end has a video board, which do show some replays during the game, but not too many. They also use it for different in-game videos to get the crowd more pumped up.
I recommend entering the arena through the south entrance. The concourse on the south side is full of historic memorabilia. When you enter, you're greeted by a huge painting of Don Haskins, as well as the 1966 National Championship banner, and banners representing the induction of Don Haskins, as well as the entire 1965-66 team into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. There are also trophy cases for all of the sports in this area, including the 1966 trophy. The building is very simple with no overwhelming features, sort of resembling the man himself, Don Haskins.
The Don is located on the corner of Glory Road and Mesa St. Mesa St. has a ton to offer for pre and postgame activities. Within walking distance of the arena, you can find almost any kind of cuisine that you are looking for. To the north, there isn't as much, but there is Cabo Joe's, and my favorite name, The Hoppy Monk.
Most of the options are to the south, including Aroma, The Palomino, Mesa Street Grill, Rib Hut, Yamato Japanese, and much, much more. Once again, they're all within just a few blocks of Don Haskins Center. It's a very diverse and unique street that doesn't look too promising if you are driving from the north, but it gets better as you go just south of the arena.
The student section, the "Miner Maniacs", is a pretty entertaining group of people. I did go to a winter break game against UNLV, but there were still quite a few people in the student section, and they brought an army of big heads. The best one was an enormous cutout of center John Bohannon, which had working arms and everything to try and distract the opponent's free throw shooter in the second half.
Outside of the student section, everyone was still very into the game the entire time; even when UTEP was down big early in the second half. The fans never gave up, never stopped cheering, and it got ridiculously loud when the Miners almost came back to beat the Rebels at the end of the game. It appears Tim Floyd has restored some hope in the Miner faithful, and brought them back to expecting good things to happen when they go to The Don.
Getting to Don Haskins Center is fairly easy. The easiest ways are to either take Executive Center Blvd. or Schuster Ave. east from I-10 to Mesa St., and then taking Mesa St. to Glory Road. The Glory Road parking garage is just across the street from the arena, and costs 10 dollars to park on game day for the general public. There are a lot of surface lots in the area, but they are all permit only. There are a lot of handicap parking spots on Glory Road.
The building is sort of built into a hill on the north and west sides. If you are coming from that direction from the Sun Bowl or other sports facilities, you may miss it because you can only see the roof. Also, if you are trying to walk from that direction, it is not very handicap accessible, and has a lot of stairs to walk down to get to the entrance doors.
The concourse itself is not very wide, which can cause some problems at halftime and after the game. The concession stand lines move sort of slow, causing them to back up into the concourse, and causing a lot of congestion at halftime. Definitely worthwhile to get your food during a media timeout rather than at halftime. The bathrooms have the same problem, there are a lot of them, but they are all small, so lines end up in the small concourse, adding to the traffic jam.
Don Haskins Center is really a must-see for any college basketball fan interested in the history of the game. Tickets for UTEP games are very affordable, ranging from $8-$30. With the low ticket prices, sort of low food and drink prices, and 10 dollar parking, it is basically the same price as going to a museum, which is essentially what the arena is.
I've touched on all the historical significance already, but seeing it all in one place was remarkable. As I mentioned, the south hallway of the concourse is really where you need to start. National Basketball Hall of Fame banners, trophy cases full of memorabilia, and the 1966 Championship banner.
In the main area, the rafters are lined with every NCAA and NIT tournament appearance, every WAC and now Conference USA tournament appearance and championship, and the national championship banner. The south end is filled with retired numbers, including those from the 1966 team, plus others such as Tim Hardaway and Nolan Richardson.
The campus area around Don Haskins Center is also a sight to see. All of the athletics facilities are sort of built into a hill, especially the Sun Bowl. Just taking a walk around the area is fantastic, and also to go see Memorial Gymnasium, where the historic season took place.
One last extra. The dance team's name is the Gold Diggers.
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4141 North Mesa Street
El Paso, TX 79902
2725 North Mesa Street
El Paso, TX 79902
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