Haskins, Clem 1943–
Clem Haskins 1943–
Clem Haskins spent most of his life involved with basketball, first as a star player in high school and college, and then as a college basketball coach at the University of Kentucky and the University of Minnesota. Both as a player and as a coach, Haskins emphasized teamwork and discipline as the keys to success, yet success eluded him in his goal to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship, and scandals besmirched his reputation. Just two years after being named the 1997 Associated Press Coach of the Year, he resigned from his position as head coach of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers under the shadow of allegations that he fostered department wrongdoing. He left behind him a dichotomous legacy of hard-fought victories and painful memories.
Clem Haskins was born on August 11, 1943 in Campbellsville, Kentucky. Haskins was the fifth of eleven children born to Charles Columbus and Lucy Edna Haskins. The family lived in a three-bedroom house on a farm three miles out of town with no television, telephone, or even indoor plumbing. Haskins began working on the family farm when he was six years old, milking cows and chopping and stripping tobacco. Haskins’ childhood was happy—filled with family, work, discipline, and religion. However, his father disapproved of participation in sports, feeling that such activities took time away from the farm work.
Haskins started going to a one-room schoolhouse when he was eight years old but was in and out of school because of his commitments on the farm. When he began attending junior high school some teachers prevailed upon his father to allow him to come to school more and also to play basketball, an activity he first started at the age of ten in an old barn at a friend’s apple orchard. In high school, basketball became more and more important to Haskins. After successful freshman and sophomore seasons at the all-black Durham High School, Haskins decided to transfer to the all-white school in the area. In 1961 Haskins attended Taylor County High School, the first African American to do so. The school initially resisted his attempt at integration; a friend drove Haskins there every day and, for a month, he walked three miles home after being barred from entering the school. Eventually the state intervened and school officials allowed him to enroll.
Born Clem Haskins August 11, 1943 in Campbells ville, KY; son of Charles (a farmer) and Lucy; married Yevette, 1965; children; Clemette, Lori, and Brent. Education: graduated from Western Kentucky University, 1967; received a masters degree from Western Kentucky, 1971.
Career: Basketball coach. All-State basketball player in high school, 1962-63; played for Chicago Bulls, 1967-70; played for the Phoenix Suns, 1970-74; played for the Washington Bullets, 1974-76; Western Kentucky University, assistant coach, 1978-80, head coach, 1980-86; University of Minnesota, head coach, 1986-99; assistant basketball coach of the Olympic Dream Team II, 1996; head basketball coach of the Goodwill Games, 1998.
Awards: High School Scholastic All-American, 1963; Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, 1965-67; First team All-American, 1967; Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year, 1982; Associated Press Coach of the Year, 1997.
Addresses: Home —Campbellsville, KY.
Once he became a student, Haskins had no problems with the other students, teachers, or administrators, but he did encounter virulent racism during his basketball games. Haskins often cried in his coach’s office after games because of the verbal abuse he suffered at the hands of opposing fans and teams. However, the insults caused his teammates to rally around him and motivated him to become a better player. Haskins was named to the all-state team two years in a row and after his senior year was named to the Scholastic All-American team.
After high school Haskins decided to enroll at Louisville after being intensely recruited, but one stint at summer school there convinced him it was too far from home. He ended up attending Western Kentucky University, which had also recruited him. In the fall of 1963 Haskins and his roommate Dwight Smith became the first black basketball players for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The pattern was the same as in high school. The home fans cheered Haskins and Smith at the Hilltoppers’ games but on the road the two received terrible abuse. Also, though the community supported them as basketball players, Haskins was still subject to the segregation of the time. After a great freshman season, Haskins led Western Kentucky to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). For the season he averaged 23.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game and was named to the all-conference team, earning him the nickname Clem “The Gem” Haskins. His sophomore year also had one more highlight: On May 22, 1965, Haskins married his high school girl-friend Yevette. The two lived on campus, Clem going to school and playing basketball and Yevette working as a secretary. When their first daughter Clemette was born in late November she lived with Haskins’ parents.
In the 1965-66 season, Haskins and Western Kentucky were even better. The team won the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) title with a 14-0 record, and Haskins was the OVC Player of the Year. The team made it to the NCAA tournament but again lost in the second round. For his senior season Haskins and the Hilltoppers exploded out of the gate with a 16-1 record. On February 6, Haskins-who was averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds a game at the time-broke his wrist in a game against Murray State. Haskins sat out five games, but his teammates won four of them including the OVC championship. Haskins returned to the lineup and led the Hilltoppers to a 23-2 record and the number three ranking in the nation. But the team’s dream of a national championship ended in the first round of the NCAA tournament with an overtime loss to Dayton. Haskins was named a consensus All-American selection and the OVC Player of the Year for the third year in a row. After a glorious college career on the court Haskins received his degree in 1967 and returned to Western Kentucky to earn a masters degree in 1971.
After graduation, Haskins returned briefly to work on his father’s farm before being drafted by the NBA’s Chicago Bulls as the third overall pick. He reported to the Bulls and made the team, though his wrist still had not completely healed. Haskins had to adjust his mental game while playing on a team that lost more games in the first month of the season than he lost in three years of college. Despite the team’s poor start, the Bulls made the playoffs, losing in the first round against the Lakers. After his rookie season, in which he averaged 8.9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game, Haskins had surgery on his wrist. He spent two more seasons in Chicago progressing steadily, though he had to make the transition from forward to point guard. In his second season he averaged 17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. The following year he had upped those totals to 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. After his third season in Chicago, Haskins was traded to the Phoenix Suns. During the off-season in 1970 Haskins’ second daughter, Lori, was born. Three years later his third child, Brent, joined the family. Haskins spent four years in Phoenix playing for the new NBA franchise, putting up solid numbers for four different coaches. After the fourth year Haskins was traded to the Washington Bullets, a team capable of contending for the NBA championship. Haskins and the Bullets made it all the way to the NBA finals, losing to the Golden State Warriors in four games. The following season would be an important one for Haskins. Because tendonitus in both knees limited him to only fifteen minutes a game, he had time to observe the great coach KC Jones and his assistants run a basketball team and discovered his true calling: coaching basketball. After two seasons Haskins finished his career with the Bullets. Over the course of his nine-year career he played in 681 games, scored 8,743 points, and grabbed 2,087 re-bounds.
Haskins moved back to Campbellsville to farm, but he also scouted for the Bullets. Soon he was back at his alma mater, volunteering to help coach the basketball team. Before the 1978-79 season the Hilltoppers hired Gene Keady as the new basketball coach and Haskins was named his top assistant. Keady stayed at Western Kentucky for two years and then Haskins rose to the top job. In his first season Haskins led his team to a 21-8 record, won the OVC championship, and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. Haskins also won the OVC Coach of the Year Award. He followed up his rookie season in 1981-82 with an OVC co-championship. Western Kentucky made the NIT and its first game was against former coach Gene Keady’s Purdue Boilermakers. Haskins’ season ended with a 72-65 loss.
After two years with veteran players, Haskins faced the prospect of rebuilding the team when several key players graduated. The Hilltoppers also transferred into a tougher league: the Sun Belt Conference. Starting in 1982, Western Kentucky finished 12-16, 12-17, and 14-14 in the next three seasons, though Haskins’ teams were well prepared and played hard. Rumors circulated about Haskins’ ability to win in the tougher conference, but his 1985-86 season proved his critics wrong. He led his team to a 23-8 record and a second place finish in the conference, earning a trip to the NCAA tournament. At one time Western Kentucky was ranked nineteenth in the nation. The Hilltoppers defeated their first-round opponent Nebraska, but then lost to Kentucky, 71-64.
Haskins looked forward to the following year with tournament-tested athletes, but contract talks between him and the school broke down. In the midst of negotiations, he received an offer from the University of Minnesota that would almost double his current salary as part of a five-year deal. After struggling to rebuild the Hilltoppers team, Haskins was not eager to begin the process anew with the faltering Minnesota Golden Gophers, but the chance to coach in the tough Big Ten Conference proved to be too much of a draw. The first two years at Minnesota were a nightmare. Three players were under indictment on sexual assault charges, and though they were eventually cleared of the charges, there were hard feelings about the incident on the Minnesota campus. Not only did Haskins struggle to put together a competitive team, but there was also a trial involving the athletic department that he was pulled into. He spent almost $60,000 of his own money in legal fees. His first two teams finished 9-19 and 10-18 including 21 straight losses in the Big Ten Conference.
In the 1988-89 season the Golden Gophers turned the corner. Despite being picked by experts to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten, Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, defeated four top-twenty teams, and advanced to the sweet 16 on their way to a 19-12 record. The 1989-90 season opened with the Golden Gophers ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press (AP). Minnesota ran up a 20-8 overall record along with an 11-7 record in the Big Ten and was named a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament. The Golden Gophers advanced to the Elite Eight before losing to Georgia Tech, 93-91. Haskins had officially rebuilt Minnesota’s basketball program.
Haskins followed up his two great seasons with two young teams. Minnesota finished the 1990-91 season with a 12-16 record and the 1991-92 season with a 16-16 record. In the 1992-93 season Minnesota finished 22-10. Haskins did his best to promote his team after defeating Bob Knight’s Indiana team, telling Sports Illustrated’s Phil Taylor that Minnesota had better coaches than Indiana: “Credit needs to go to my staff and Clem Haskins for doing one hell of a job… It’s superior coaching. Superior preparation of our team. If that’s bragging, it’s bragging. On a national scale our program is not getting the recognition it deserves. We just got done beating the best team in basketball. I want my due.” Haskins’s comments about not being recognized proved to be prophetic as the Golden Gophers failed to gain a berth in the NCAA tournament. Despite this disappointment, the team went on to win the NIT, defeating Georgetown 62-61. Minnesota was back in the 1993-94 season with an experienced and talented team. The Golden Gophers ended the season with a 21-12 record and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten. The team won its first game in the NCAA tournament before losing to Louisville in the second round. The 1994-95 season brought Minnesota another berth in the NCAA tournament, but the team lost the first game. Despite the early exit from the tournament Haskins signed a ten-year contract with the university retroactive to the 1992-93 season.
In the 1995-96 season, Haskins had to replace five seniors who had graduated. Through the first half of the year it looked like a season for rebuilding as the team had a 3-6 record in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers turned it around in the second half of the season, finishing with a 18-12 mark and a 10-8 record in the Big Ten. Despite this improvement, the team did not earn a spot in the NCAA tournament and advanced only to the second round of the NIT.
After the 1996 season Haskins did not get his customary summer off. He joined Head Coach Lenny Wilkins’ staff to coach the “Dream Team” to the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. The Olympic experience refreshed Haskins as a coach and he came into the 1996-97 season predicting that his overlooked team would win the Big Ten and contend for the national championship. When the Big Ten season started, Minnesota ranked 15th in the nation with an 11-1 record. The Golden Gophers then stormed through the Big Ten campaign to win the conference title with a 27-3 record. Minnesota was named No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament.
Much of the reason for the team’s success lies in the fact that the Gopher players were a model of effective teamwork. They led the Big Ten in assists and had no stars. Nine players averaged more than ten minutes a game and none averaged more than 15 points a game. The Golden Gophers plowed through the tournament, defeating Southwest Texas State, Temple, and Clemson. With his defeat of Clemson, Haskins earned his 300th career victory. The team then beat the University of California-Los Angeles team to advance to the Final Four. Minnesota lost to Rick Pitino’s defending national championship Kentucky team 78-89, but the Golden Gophers and their coach had a great season. The team was the first in Minnesota history to advance to the Final Four, and set a school record with 31 wins. In addition Haskins was honored as the Associated Press Coach of the Year. Before the game against Kentucky, Haskins told Tim Kawakami of the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t believe in earrings, in baggy shorts, those things…I guess my days are behind me. That’s probably why in just a few more years, I’ll be forced out of coaching.” Sadly he could not have been more correct.
Though Haskins fielded good teams in his final two years as a basketball coach, the Golden Gophers were more well known for events taking place off the court than on it. Haskins’ career at Minnesota began to unravel shortly after his finest season. In August of 1997 standout player Courtney James was suspended and ultimately left the school after being convicted of fifth-degree assault charges. Haskins himself came under fire for accepting a non-business-related trip to Las Vegas paid for by boosters. However, the most problematic charge concerned allegations of academic fraud by Gopher players. Three former tutors came forward and claimed they wrote papers for Minnesota basketball players and received payments from the athletic department to do so. Four ex-players confirmed the allegations with some claiming Haskins knew about the cheating. Perhaps the final embarrassment came before the first round of the 1999 NCAA tournament when four Minnesota basket-ball players were declared ineligible before the Golden Gopher’s game with Gonzaga. At first Minnesota President Mark Yudorf stood behind the longtime coach, but as more and more scandals came to light the pressure to remove Haskins escalated. Finally on June 25, 1999 Yudorf accepted Haskins’ resignation. At a news conference covered by the Associated Press following the announcement Yudorf acknowledged the violations of the academic code and said that the time had come for a change. However he praised Haskins, saying, “He has communicated to his players the goals of playing hard, working hard to achieve career goals, respecting others—including opponents—and becoming honorable men.” Since there was conflicting evidence regarding Haskins’ awareness of the academic cheating, he was bought out of the remaining years of his contract for $1.5 million. Haskins retired from coaching and moved back to Campbellsville, leaving a very ambiguous legacy at the University of Minnesota. Some fans felt that the buy-out rewarded his negligence. Others believed that he was an honorable and old-fashioned man caught up in the murky world of big-time college basketball.
Haskins, Clem and Mark Ryan, Breaking Barriers, Cahners Publishing Co., 1997.
The Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1997.
The Minnesota Daily, February 3, 1997; March 12, 1999.
Sports Illustrated, February 24, 1992; March 3, 1997.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the CNN/Sports Illustrated website on the world wide web at http://cnnsi.com.
—Michael J. Watkins
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