The year was 1941. A loaf of bread cost eight cents. A couple of experimental TV stations were on the air. The big band era was in full swing.
Neil Diamond, Faye Dunaway, Bob Dylan and Martha Stewart were born. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was beginning his third team as President of the United States. America was on the brink of war.
And in El Paso, the Miner basketball team was winning its first conference championship.
UTEP was known as the College of Mines and Metallurgy back then. And the game of basketball was different, too. The two-handed set shot was standard, and players shot free throws between their knees.
Marshall Pennington moonlighted as the Miner basketball coach. He was the business manager at the school by day. Pennington did not have a recruiting budget to speak of. Every so often the president of the university, Dr. Dossie Marion Wiggins, excused him from his duties in the business office at 4 p.m. so he could go out and find players. Pennington would go to the YMCA and Vernus Carey, the athletic director there, would brief him on who all was playing – where they went to school, and what year they were.
Seven members of the ’41 team – Bud Lassiter, Don Lance, Mike Devlin, Lee Floyd, Billy Johnstone, Greg Ramsey and Doug Ramsey – had been on the same peewee team at the Y.
The Miners weren’t the most physically gifted bunch, but they made up for it with their camaraderie and quickness. Lance, Lassiter, Floyd, Bill Rike, David Carrasco and Jesse Bulos were regarded as the team’s best players.
Lance, an All-Conference forward, was the Miners’ leading scorer. He was nearsighted, and couldn’t see the basket until he passed midcourt.
Lassiter could play every position, and was the team’s unofficial rebound champion.
Floyd, another forward and the third-leading scorer, was the father of Tim Floyd, who was later head coach of the Miners.
Rike was a guard who didn’t score a lot, but still earned All-Conference recognition for his heady play.
Carrasco, who split time in the middle with Lassiter, was hampered with injuries that limited his mobility, but still made his presence known off the bench.
Bulos was a tough, hard-nosed guard who earned nine letters as a member of the Miner basketball, football and track squads. Once he dislocated two fingers in a football game, but stayed in the contest.
The Miners played their home games at Holliday Hall, which seated about 250 people. They beat Arizona State, 63-46, to clinch the outright Border Conference title – the first of 12 regular season league championship banners to fly in the Don Haskins Center.