Twenty years ago on this date, on a Sunday afternoon in Dayton, Ohio, UTEP was pulling off perhaps its biggest win since the 1966 title game. The Miners upset top-seeded Kansas that day in Dayton, advancing to the Sweet 16.
That was a great Miner team, one with all the elements. You had three good guards. Eddie Rivera could score on anyone in the nation. Prince Stewart could keep anyone in the nation from scoring. And Gym Bice was good and solid, a great ball handler and good shooter.
They had two 6-5 swingmen in Ralph Davis and Johnny Melvin. Both were athletic, both played furiously hard.
They had three strong inside players. Marlon Maxey was a 6-8 wide body, who played bigger than he was. David Van Dyke was 6-10 and remains the school's all-time shot blocker. Roy Howard, at 6-8, was tough as can be.
Give Don Haskins all those pieces and he could do something special. And he did.
He used three guards much of the afternoon, spreading the floor, working the shot clock, taking good shots and frustrating the talented Kansas team. He played a triangle-and-two defense much of the time, again frustrating the Jayhawks.
Kansas looked good getting off the bus, looked good warming up, looked good playing. That was an excellent team. But not one that could match the Miners on that March afternoon 20 years ago. It was a wonderful win, a wonderful afternoon in Ohio.
The UTEP flight home was delayed and the Miners did not touch down until around midnight on that Sunday night. The entire airport was packed. At that time, you could go down to the gate. There were people packed all the way from the gate to the escalators. You got to the escalators and looked down and all you could see was body-to-body Miner fans ... packing the airport.
Coach Haskins was amazing through it all. He was pacing through an underground parking lot at the hotel before the game started. He knew. He just knew he had the players and the game plan to win. He knew. After the game, sitting in an airport restaurant, enjoying a glass of milk (ha ha) or something, he was relaxed and happy ... his deep laughter something to remember for a lifetime.
The Miners lost by two to Cincinnati the next week in Kansas City. They got off to a terrible start, but still almost won. Cincinnati buried Memphis in the Elite Eight. It would have been nice to see Coach Haskins back in the Final Four.
But, even as it was, that Sunday afternoon in Dayton was ever so special. The twenty years have flown by, a few blinks of the eye. Ralph Davis, Johnny Melvin, David Van Dyke, Marlon Maxey, Eddie Rivera, Prince Stewart ... they are all men now, with families of their own. They have all done well with their lives.
Sadly, Gym Bice was killed in an electrical accident and Roy Howard was killed in a trucking accident — both gone far too soon.
But on a sunny day in Ohio, a few blinks of the eye ago, twenty years ago, all those Miners were something special. And all will be carried on the shoulders of Miner fans far into forever.