Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (National Treasure, Remember the Titans) creates yet another low-cost, high emotion movie that connects with audiences and relieves some important history. Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama) plays coach Don Haskins who leads the historic Texas Western men’s basketball team to the NCAA championship in 1966, which included the first starting lineup of all African-American players.
Haskins begins by recruiting players from all over the country and brings them to the campus at Texas – both actions create predictable opposition. Haskins’ competitive spirit and willingness to compromise empower his team to create amazing results in an environment with little support or expectations. He drives the players to be their best through grueling physical training while shunning selfish play. “That’s activity without accomplishment,” Haskins says to a showboating player. Fights among the team due to racial differences threaten to tear them apart before they even begin. “This just shows that knuckleheads come in all sizes, shapes and colors,” says the team trainer.
The plot progresses beyond team conflict/camaraderie with a winning streak that gets the national media’s attention. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher Story, Friday Night Lights) stars as Bobby Jo Hill who becomes the team’s leader. Tatyana Ali (TV’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) stars as Bobby’s love interest and Damaine Radcliff plays Willie Cager, one of many talented players presented to the audience. The film presents quick highlights of each player’s personal challenges/situations, which cement the plot together into a common theme.
The team must now overcome a world full of hateful people in addition to opposing teams and boosters threatening to cut off their funding. “It’s more than just a game now…I can’t quit on it,” Haskins tells his wife, played by Emily Deschanel (Spider-Man 2). The climax increases the racial tension as the team arrives for the NCAA tournament and introduces legendary Kentucky coach, Adolph Rupp, played by veteran actor Jon Voight. The satisfying ending replays one of the biggest “Cinderella” stories in college basketball, and perhaps, all of sports. NBA coach Pat Riley, who served as technical adviser on the film, actually played on the 1966 Kentucky team. Look for the real coach Haskins during a scene at a gas station. Recommended and rated PG for racial themes, a sequence of violence and racial references/tension.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler