It was June 1987. I had just graduated from college and my father, Kwame McDonald, was about to introduce University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball coach, Clem Haskins.
This was going to be a big moment for me because Haskins, who had just finished his first year as the U of M’s coach after six years at Western Kentucky University, was a Black man who had taken over a program rocked with scandal in 1986.
Another connection was that Haskins recruited Minneapolis North player Brett McNeal to Western Kentucky after McNeal led the Polars to a runner-up finish in the Class 2A state tournament and won Mr. Basketball in 1985.
The connection that sealed it for me was the fact that Haskins chose my father to lead the Pillsbury Summer Basketball League in the summer of 1987. At the time it was the premiere basketball league in the state for high school, college and professional players.
So here I was, a recent graduate of HBCU Central State University (Ohio), riding with my dad to a store in Dinkytown on the U of M campus to meet a man I admired. I was very excited when we arrived, but the intro didn’t pan out the way I thought it would.
There we were: myself, my father and Coach Haskins standing in the middle of the store. “Hi Coach Haskins,” I said smiling. “Very nice to meet you.”
“Very nice to meet you,” he replied with a smile as well.
Before I could continue our conversation, his smile suddenly disappeared and he said, “So you’re a Georgetown man, huh?”
I looked down and realized I was wearing a Georgetown Hoyas t-shirt.
How crazy was that?
Haskins immediately presented me with a couple of Gopher t-shirts and life went on. My father, however, never let me forget that moment.
Haskins left Western Kentucky after McNeal’s first year to coach the Gophers from 1986-1999 and experienced success that included NCCA tournament appearances in the Sweet 16 (1989) and Elite Eight (1990) and a NIT Championship (1993).
He was forced to resign due to an academic scandal that broke the night before a 1999 NCAA tournament game against Gonzaga, and the team was eventually stripped of its wins in the 1994, 1995 and 1997 (Final Four) NCAA Tournaments, as well as its NIT wins in 1996 and 1998.
Despite those developments, my memory of that moment never diminished. I got to meet one of the best basketball coaches the University of Minnesota ever had.
I got to meet Clem Haskins.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.