"Believe it or not," says Dr. Haskell Monroe, UTEP's president, "he's mellowed a little." The mellowness of the man in question—Miners Coach Don Haskins, better known as The Bear—was not in evidence recently as he ranted and raved during a grueling two-hour-and-45-minute practice session. Best remembered for guiding a team of Cinderellas to the NCAA title in 1966, when Texas-El Paso was still known as Texas Western, Haskins may have the opportunity to show America that there are some genuine tough guys left.
He has never turned in a better coaching job than he did last season when the Miners went 19-10 overall and 11-5 in the WAC largely without their two best players, Forward Fred Reynolds (right) and Swingman Juden Smith. In quick succession early in the schedule, Smith injured his left knee when he turned to say hello to someone in the student union, and Reynolds tore the gastrocnemius in his right calf; "Is that some of the damndest luck you ever heard?" asked Haskins, the WAC's Coach of the Year.
Yes, and isn't Reynolds one of the damndest players you ever seen? Though he was virtually disabled until March, he still made the Pan American team in May. And last month he was voted the school's Homecoming King.
UTEP's most naturally talented player is probably Smith, who has recovered from his knee surgery. Smith was a 19-year-old without a scholarship and heading nowhere when former UTEP player Gus Bailey saw him play in the Tremé Summer League in New Orleans and urged Haskins to recruit him. Though Smith got 3.8 rebounds a game as a freshman in 1981-82, Haskins may play him at point guard to replace his only significant loss, Byron Walker. What does Smith think of that move? "I don't want to play there," he says. If Smith remains reluctant, the playmaker may be junior Luster Goodwin, a sharpshooter better suited to the other guard.
Sophomore Center Dave Feitl will need a lot of rebounding help from Reynolds and Forward Paul Cunningham. Another factor inside is junior Swingman Kent Lockhart, an art major who grows roses in his spare time—and catches a lot of heat for it from the hard-nosed Haskins. "You're spending too much time watering your roses," Haskins likes to tell Lockhart when he makes a mistake during practice. But if Haskins does his usual careful cultivating, everything could come up roses for him, too.