Pete's Ponderings-May 18
Courtesy: New Mexico State University  
Release:  05/18/2009

This week, Ole Pete wants to take you back a little bit in time. Back seven days and back more than 40 years. The Aggies’ Final Four basketball team of 1970 was presented championship rings, May 16, as a project of the school’s African American Alumni Association. This team certainly deserved them as the Aggies fought their way into the spotlight of college basketball’s best as the Cinderella team of the decade.


Head coach Lou Henson was there to praise the men who made it happen. Jimmy Collins, Sam Lacey, Roy Neal and others were in attendance. Bill Moore was there in spirit. We told you about Moore a couple of weeks back and his role in this success story. I want to take you back a little further though, back to when this great story began. The athletic world was different in the mid-1960s, African-American athletes weren’t welcome on every campus and some schools had quotas on scholarships although they would never admit it.


Henson had to reassure folks in Indianola, Miss., that he was just there to sign a player named Sam Lacey and was not there to try to change the existing culture. It was a culture that he hated fed by the ignorance that segregation bred. Henson had a quota of his own; he needed to get as many good players as it took to compete with UCLA, New Mexico and the rest. That meant recruiting Hispanics, like Chito Reyes from southern Doņa Ana county, and Rudy Franco from Las Cruces. Tall guys like John Burgess and Jeff Smith and short guys like Milton “Roadrunner” Horne and Charley Criss.  He was looking for players who would learn as a team and live as brothers from the family of man working toward a common goal.


As far as championship rings go, those were extravagant items in 1970 reserved for Super Bowl Champs and others who had supersized budgets. Things like jewelry weren’t on the radar, at NM State even though they had been earned. The years go by so quickly and the teams and players we love move on to careers in education, public safety, agriculture as well as professional sports.


Some will point to this team as being super because it had three NBA stars, but you are missing the real picture if you limit it to that. There were no separate facilities or restrictions on friendships or association for this group of men. Reaching the NCAA Final Four was a great achievement, but growing together as one people is a lot further up the list in Pete’s book. Thank you all who made this night so great.


‹ New Mexico State Aggie Athletics

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