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Harry Flournoy, Texas Western forward
B.J. Schecter
April 06, 1998
March 28, 1966
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April 06, 1998

Harry Flournoy, Texas Western Forward

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March 28, 1966

As Texas western's all-black starting five prepared to take on Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky team in the 1966 NCAA basketball championship game in College Park, Md., Harry Flournoy and his Miners teammates knew they had a chance to change the face of the sport. They knew that no team with five black starters had ever won an NCAA tide; they also knew that the legendary Rupp, who was going for his fifth national championship, refused to recruit black players. A few hours before tip-off, a visibly upset Miners coach Don Haskins told his players he'd just heard Rupp vow that "no five blacks are going to beat Kentucky." "From that point on," Flournoy says, " Kentucky had as much chance of winning that game as a snowball had of surviving in hell."

Texas Western (now UTEP), led by the disruptive defense of Willie Worsley and the scoring of Bobby Joe Hill, who finished with 20 points, grabbed the lead midway through the first half and won 72-65. Though he scored just two points in six minutes before twisting his left knee, Flournoy, a 6'5" forward, was shown on the cover of the next week's SI grabbing one of his two rebounds, from Wildcats All-America Pat Riley. " Kentucky was playing for a commemorative wristwatch and the right to say they were national champions," says Flournoy, who averaged 8.3 points and 10.7 rebounds that season. "We were out to prove that it didn't matter what color a person's skin was."

Flournoy had already experienced racism on the court at Emerson High, the predominantly white high school he attended in Gary, Ind. "All the best players on the team were black, but there was this unspoken rule that no more than three blacks could play at once," says Flournoy. "It was a bad situation, but that's the way things were in those days."

These days Flournoy, now 54, is a sales representative for a bakery based in Los Angeles and lives in Lakewood, Calif., with his wife, Yvette. He no longer plays basketball, but he follows UTEP and the local college teams on TV and, every now and then, especially during March Madness, reflects on what he and his teammates accomplished. "I wonder what college ball might be like if we hadn't won that game," says Flournoy. "A lot of people don't realize what it was like for black players. But now I see so many players disrespecting the game—trash talking, mouthing off to officials and coaches, and showboating. Sometimes I can't even watch because they are undoing things we worked so hard for."