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Clem's Court

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TCHS basketball court named in honor of basketball, community legend

By Moreland Jeff

 

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Many people hear the name Clem Haskins, and the first thing that comes to mind is basketball.

For Clem Haskins himself, the most important thing in his life is his family.

That’s why his family was by his side Saturday night as the floor at Taylor County High School’s Citizens Bank Arena was named in honor of the Taylor County legend.

At halftime of the boys’ basketball game against Scott County during the fourth annual Clem Haskins Classic, a ceremony took place to officially dedicate the court and name it “Clem Haskins Court.” As he walked onto the floor to speak to the crowd, Haskins was surrounded by former teammates, players and managers, as well as members of his family. He told the crowd of the importance of family in his life, and also showed his appreciation for those who had been a part of his life and his athletic career.

“Family is very, very important, and everybody that knows me already knows that,” Haskins said. “My foundation, my parents and the way they raised me, that’s what I stand on today.”

A commemorative plaque was presented to Haskins by Taylor County High School Principal Laura Benningfield and Superintendent of Taylor County Schools Roger Cook.

“It was an honor and a privilege to dedicate the Taylor County High School Citizens Bank Arena basketball court after the great Clem Haskins,” Cook said. “It has been a long time coming, and he deserves this tribute to his legacy. I think it is prudent that students and the community will see his name on this court for many years to come.”

Haskins stressed his appreciation of the honor, thanking Cook, Taylor County Athletics Director Jeff Gumm and others with the school district who made the honor possible.

Initially, Haskins was not in favor of the idea, but he came around with some encouragement from Yevette.

“It was very humbling, and I have to give my wife credit again, because I was hesitant at first because there are so many players who have played there. That’s why I was so adamant about bringing all of the players that played with me on the court. I just didn’t want to be singled out ahead of anybody else,” Haskins said. “From where I started, I’m a sharecropper of parents with no education, to make it that far and get where I got, it had to be a miracle, somebody higher, and it was God leading and directing my path. There was just no way I could accomplish that as a player or as a person.”

Yevette remembered being approached with the idea of naming the court before the school was completed.

“Superintendent Cook mentioned to me when they were building the school that they wanted to pay homage to what Clem had done and the recognition he has brought to the school and to the county,” she said. “I thought it was a good idea, but when I mentioned it to Clem, he said no. But I said, ‘No, you’ve earned the right, and if they want to do it, you should.’ So he finally thought it was OK.

Following the festivities, he again stressed the importance of his family, from his youth until today. He smiled as he talked about a young girl he met while the two were in the fifth grade at Durham School, and how they would later date in high school, and then marry while in college. That girl was Yevette Penick, but for 53 years now, she has been Yevette Haskins, and it’s clear she means everything to him.

“She’s my soul mate, my best friend and my number one fan and supporter along the way,” he said. “It takes two to make it work, and she’s been very supportive of me through my playing days, my coaching days at Western and at Minnesota, and through my farming now. She’s always been by my side, and always will be. I’m very proud and appreciative of having a wife like her.”

Also by his side Saturday night were two of the three Haskins children — their son, Brent, and one of their two daughters, Lori Crook. Their other daughter Clemette, was unable to attend. She is an ordained minister in California, and was working at a retreat there.

Haskins learned about basketball from many people over the years, but he gives credit to Dave Roberts, a neighbor of his growing up, for getting him hooked on the sport.

“That’s where I shot my first basketball. I threw it like a baseball and banked in my first shot ever,” Haskins recalled. He said Roberts’ father later brought him the goal on which he made that first shot after Roberts passed away.

“He said Dave would want me to have that goal,” Haskins added. “That’s the first shot I ever made in my life. I was 11 years of age at that time. From that day on, I shot basketball every day. That’s why I was a good shooter. I loved to play and loved to shoot, and to become a good shooter, you have to shoot every day, to be able to make shots in game situations.”

He made many more shots during an illustrious career, which took him from Durham High School in Campbellsville for two years, followed by two years at Taylor County High School. He went on to Western Kentucky University, where he was three times named Ohio Valley Conference player of the year from 1965 to 1967, and also named first-team All-American in 1967.

After college, it was on to the NBA as a first-round draft pick and third overall selection, where he played from 1967 until 1976 with the Chicago Bulls, Phoenix Suns and Washington Bullets.

After his playing days, Haskins became a coach, first as an assistant at his alma mater at Western Kentucky from 1977 to 1980 before being named head coach of the Hilltoppers in 1980. He held that position until 1986, when the University of Minnesota hired him as its head coach. While at Minnesota, Haskins led the Golden Gophers to a school-record 31 wins and the 1997 NCAA Final Four.

He was also an assistant coach under the legendary Lenny Wilkens with the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal.

It might appear that basketball came naturally to Haskins, and that life has been good, and he would not argue. But he will also tell you that things did not come easy to him. He was the first black player at Taylor County High School, and those days came with plenty of trials.

“Some people don’t realize it, but I couldn’t get in school for three weeks. They boycotted for three weeks and stood in front of the door,” Haskins recalled.

As a player, he said he regularly faced threats against his life, mostly from parents and outside people.

“Every day, every game I played, I had threats of losing my life. It wasn’t easy. I cried myself to sleep many nights, and I cried after many games. Fred Waddle, my assistant coach, was there holding my hand, patting me on the back, and he said it would be alright,” Haskins said. “But when the game started, when I stepped across the lines, I could tune everything out. It didn’t affect my play because I was mentally tough, and it motivated me to push harder. But after the game, it would set in. I got tripped many nights, and I knew when the game started, I had three fouls. It was just the times. But I learned how to deal with that. Young people don’t know how to deal with adversity these days, I’m talking about players today, too. But that all pushed and motivated me. I used the negative to turn into a positive. All of the letters and hateful phone calls I received, it pushed me harder to prove people wrong. When I look back, if you supported me, fine, but also if you called me a few names, that helped me too, and motivated me along the way.”

Haskins was also one of the first black players at Western Kentucky University. He and teammate Dwight Smith arrived at Western together, breaking the school’s color barrier together.

Haskins said all the things he went through, good, bad, and otherwise, helped him grow as a man and a person. He also credited the coaches, like Sammy Wickliffe, his 7th and 8th grade coach, and John Whiting, who coached him his first two years at Durham High School, as well as Billy B Smith and Fred Waddle, who coached him at Taylor County High. Those coaches, he said, gave him a foundation and taught him to be a man. He also credits Whiting with teaching him to shoot the basketball.

Teammates were also important, and while he recognized many, he pointed to one who stood out to him, and stood up for him, in high school.

“I’ve got a teammate named Richard Williams, and in my junior year, we qualify to go to the state tournament in track,” Haskins explained. “We go to Lexington, Kentucky, and we stayed up there in a hotel, and we get up on Saturday morning to go have breakfast.

“We walked to a restaurant across from the hotel, and about 10 or 12 of us sit down. All of a sudden, a waitress comes over and tells Richard and the guys, ‘You can’t eat here.’ They got up, mad, and turned the tables over and said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’

“I know what’s going on, and I told them, ‘You all go back and eat. I understand,’ but they said no, that if we couldn’t eat together, we’re not eating there. That’s why I had so much respect for him and that group, there were several guys there. That’s a hurting thing, just because of the color of your skin, you can’t sit down and eat.”

Haskins said he never talked to his own children about the negative things he experienced because they don’t have to go through that.

“Kids today should not take it for granted, and they need to give respect that is due to the people that paved the way for them,” Yevette added. “Not having respect for yourself and your fellow man, and shooting and hurting other people because you don’t have respect for yourself, and the respect for yourself comes from knowing your history, knowing how you got to where you are.”

Haskins himself added, “They don’t know the struggles, don’t understand the struggles, but people need to be reminded of that, so people understand. I didn’t wake up 6’3” and 200 pounds and a great player. It came along the way, through my parents and the hard work I put in, and people helping me along the way and advising me, both black and white.”

Yevette pointed out that not only in basketball, but everyday life, Taylor Countians can look to Clem Haskins as an example of leadership.

“Not only in basketball, but the people in this town have a lot of respect for Clem because he was the first black person to work at Fruit of the Loom. Had he not, so many others would not have been able to do that,” she said. “After he started working there, they started interviewing and hiring black folks. So it’s beyond basketball and integrating the schools, it’s making a living for other blacks in this town and surrounding towns.”

Looking ahead at the community and at sports programs in Taylor County, Haskins said he feels good about the direction things are headed.

“I feel good about the program and where it’s going. I think we have a young coach that’s going to be excellent if he continues to learn on the job, and Maze Stallworth is learning on the job. I think he’s good for the program. I think he has a good heart and he’s all for the kids, helping the kids. That’s why I respect him and think he’s doing a wonderful job there,” Haskins said. “I just want to see the whole program across the board, not only in basketball, but all the teams reach out to all kids and all coaches, black or white. We need good coaches who care about the kids and support the kids, and if they do that, I will support them 110 percent.”

When it comes to his community, Haskins said he just wants to live a good life and set a good example for people, not only in Taylor County, but everywhere.

“I’m retired in Taylor County, so I’m going to die here and be buried here. I’m happy with that, and I just want to be a positive influence in the community and do what I can to help it continue to grow,” he said.