Fort Worth Dunbar has reached Texas high school basketball’s promised land once again.
Dunbar will face Fort Bend Elkins in a Class 5A state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio, marking the Wildcats’ first visit to the UIL event in nine years.
Those in Stop Six will no doubt tell you it’s been far too long, but all the others joining the festivities in San Antonio will know who Dunbar is.
The Wildcats are no newcomer.
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Though Robert Hughes Sr. said Monday it was a tossup whether he would make the trip — the trip to regionals in Snyder left him “whooped,” he said — those who best know the almost 87-year-old assured all within hearing distance that there’s no way he would miss it.
We left the dressing room running and we didn’t stop until the game was over.
Robert Hughes Sr. on his Dunbar basketball teams
Dunbar is the program made famous by Hughes and now coached by his son, Robert Hughes Jr.
The Wildcats, who never had a winning season in the 20 years before Hughes’ arrival in 1973, will be making their 15th trip to state in the past 40 years.
They’re doing it on the foundation laid by the Sultan of Stop Six so many years ago.
“I guess this is a Dunbar tradition, but it started at I.M. Terrell,” Hughes said. “We left the dressing room running and we didn’t stop until the game was over.
“That’s what they’re still doing. They do a lot of other things now, too, but you’re going to have to be a marathon man to stay with them.”
Hughes was a generation ahead of his time when he brought fast-paced, full-court, hard-charging pressing basketball to Fort Worth at I.M. Terrell in 1958.
Three times the Tigers were state champions in the segregated Prairie View Interscholastic League, in 1963, ’65 and ’67, though there was little doubt — actually, no … no doubt — they could play with anybody, anywhere and at any time.
When Terrell was shuttered in 1973, and Hughes moved to Dunbar everything — literally everything — changed in 1976, Dunbar’s first playoff season. Dunbar basketball became life in Stop Six.
Hughes didn’t invent his style of basketball — in fact, he was merely replicating the style of his coach at Texas Southern, Edward Adams — but he perfected it at the high school level.
“Guys that are winning the state tournament are playing more wide open,” Hughes said in 1976, the year he guided Dunbar to the school’s first playoff berth. “Frankly, I want to improve basketball in Fort Worth, and I don’t think sitting on the ball improves the game, for the players or the fans.”
Having beaten Fort Worth Wyatt in bi-district that season, Chaparrals coach Bud Forman, speaking only about the season at hand, actually offered a prophesy for years to come: “There won’t be many teams that beat them if they play like that from now on.”
We expect to be back next year, and we expect to win it next year. That’s just us.
Robert Hughes after losing in the UIL state championship game in 1981.
Dunbar advanced to state four of the next five years, including twice — 1980 and 1981 — with Robert Hughes Jr. as a player. The Wildcats lost all four times.
“Just because it’s the fourth one down doesn’t cause us to become psychological,” Hughes said in 1981. “We figure we should have won four of these. We expect to be back next year, and we expect to win it next year. That’s just us.”
A few additional thoughts from the man who won 1,333 games and two UIL titles at Dunbar:
What advice do you have for Bob Jr. this week? Pray. [Laughs.] When you get this deep into the state playoffs, you just have to go out and play. Sometimes, your team does not get off the bus, and if that happens you’re in really big trouble. No coach can make a great speech and all of the sudden the kids go out and chew holes in the jerseys.
After you retired (in 2005) you could be seen doing some scouting for Dunbar’s upcoming opponents. Do you still do any of that? No. In fact, I fired myself from being his scout because with the aging I got to the point where I couldn’t see numbers of the other team. There were some games that the play was on the far side and the other end and I couldn’t tell who shot the ball, who blocked it or who tried to score or what. I just fired myself. They’ve got so much stuff now, that you don’t need to go to West Texas and scout. You just get the film.
But you do talk to him about the team? When we talk basketball … there are some things I’ll mention. Off- or on-court demeanor … Bob Jr. and his players. Since I’m one of the old-school parents, he can’t offer up any defense. Most of the time he and I are on the same page. I do discuss certain things with him and let him know about the guys who are trying to go to Hollywood. If I see something from some guy doing something that’s really out of line, we’ll talk about that.
You were once quoted as saying ‘We believe in an attacking offense, not passing 15 or 20 times for a shot.’ Could you elaborate? At Terrell and Dunbar, five passes usually meant five baskets. [Laughs] There were some teams, this is crazy, in West Texas we would play, and the [opponents’] guys on the bench would, whenever a pass was made they would call it: one, two, three, four, five. [They were under orders to pass five times before taking a shot.] When they got to five we knew then we had to go play defense because they were going to shoot somewhere between five and seven. Someone is going to lie and claim ‘we didn’t do that’ … lie.
Class 5A semifinals
Edinburg Vela (35-2) vs. Lancaster (34-2), 7 p.m.
Fort Bend Elkins (35-2) vs. Fort Worth Dunbar (23-11), 8:30 p.m.