Two D-1 head coaches from Taylor

-A A +A

Haskins and Cunningham get together at Troy at WKU game

By Bobby Brockman


A rarity happened last week in Diddle Arena on the campus of Western Kentucky University.
It’s happened at bigger high schools and some others probably in this state, but can you name another Fifth Region high school that has produced two NCAA Division 1 head men’s basketball coaches?
The two met up at last Thursday night’s Troy University at WKU Hilltoppers Sun Belt Conference clash.
Phil Cunningham, a 1985 Taylor County High School graduate, is in his first season as head coach of the Trojans.
While Western grad, Clem Haskins, who was head coach for the Hilltoppers before heading north to the University of Minnesota, was back on campus and it appeared he had never left there since his undergraduate days from the fall of 1963 until the spring of 1967.
Every where Haskins and wife Yevette went in the state’s third largest city, everyone seemed to know the Topper couple.
As soon as Haskins arrived at Diddle to watch a WKU shoot-around, every person he met had a Haskins story.
At the shoot-around each player came by and personally introduced themselves to “Clem the Gem” who was Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year twice before heading off to the NBA as the third pick in the 1967 draft.
Current WKU head coach Ray Harper, spent almost the entire game-day practice, talking to the legend in “Red Towel Country”.
The two-hour stay concluded with Haskins’ brain being picked by current WKU athletics director Todd Stewart to a-heading-out-the-door, last-minute talk with coach Michelle Clark-Heard of the Lady Toppers.
That squad includes Green County sophomore Micah Jones, who is enjoying a stellar first two years on The Hill.
Clark-Heard was a freshman for the Lady Tops when Haskins oldest daughter, Clemette was a senior.
The Haskinses had just four days earlier made a trip back to the Minnesota campus as one of Clem’s former squads was honored at the Gophers’ home game with Indiana and he was roasted the night before.
Haskins also guided U of M to the 1998 NCAA Final Four where the Gophers fell to eventual champion University of Kentucky.
When Haskins arrived at the arena at game time, one of the first  ones to cross his path was legendary WKU announcer Wes Strader.
“That’s my son there. My first year calling the Topper games was his first year of varsity eligibility in 1963-64.”
Just around the corner was another WKU legend in Romeo Crennel, a former WKU football assistant and the owner of five Super Bowl rings, off to his next job as defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.
The Haskinses sat at court-side, five feet from the actual playing surface.
As the game finished and the players and coaches concluded their post-game responsibilities, Haskins, the 1963 TCHS grad, hooked up with Cunningham, whose Troy club fought back from a double-digit deficit to lose only 81-76.
Cunningham’s squad came back two days later to knock off Georgia State, who was previously unbeaten in conference play.
Cunningham’s squad is suffering growing pains at 9-15, but the son of former Campbellsville University head coach, the late Lou Cunningham, has a Kentucky connection with LaRue County freshman Kelton Ford, who scored many of his 13 points during the comeback.
Cunningham’s mother, Barbara, did make the trip South and sat in the first row behind the Troy bench.
“I’m proud of the way our guys battled back,” Cunningham said in the post-game. “WKU was good tonight.
“But, we keep scrambling. We have six seniors and I want to get them to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in New Orleans.”
This season only the top eight in the 10-team loop make post-season play.”