Robert Hughes was on the doorstep of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame because of the national boys record of 1,333 victories and five state championships his teams won over a historic 47-year career.
But he was loved and adored at Fort Worth’s I.M. Terrell and Dunbar high schools because of the lives he influenced through the gift he shared.
Today, the school will host Robert Hughes Sr. Day not only to commemorate his storied career, but so that, in some way, he can be an influence on the students of today. A ceremony will be held from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Friday at the school.
“Coach Hughes was more than just a basketball coach,” said Melissa Harden, Dunbar Class of 1975 and one of the organizers of the event. “A lot of his players he, in a great way, was a father to them … he mentored them.
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“The principles he taught them in basketball spilled over into their lives. So many of those players are successful now. His being a part of Dunbar meant so much to us.”
Speakers will include Ralph W. Emerson, pastor of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, Devoyd Jennings, President and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce and Lindell Singleton, director of Relentless, a still-to-be-released documentary on Hughes’ career.
Hughes, 87, retired in 2005. Last month, he just fell short of selection into basketball’s hall of fame in Springfield, Mass.
His credentials for inclusion seemed to be above reproach.
In addition to more than 1,330 victories, Hughes won three state titles at Terrell and two at Dunbar while building the Wildcats program into one of the most respected in the country based on a mantra of “Don’t let anybody outwork you. Period.”
Hughes, the West coach in the 2001 McDonald’s All-American Game, is a member of the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame and the High School Basketball Hall of Fame. He was selected national high school coach of the year in 2003.
His teams took on his personality. “Eyeball-to-eyeball tough and don’t blink” was how he described their mentality.
“I was a guy who was blessed with an ability to communicate with youngsters,” Hughes said. “Not so much basketball players, youngsters — boys, girls, athletes, non-athletes.
“It’s just a gift. Most of time we don’t really appreciate gifts and use them to help others.”
Hughes played at Texas Southern for coach Edward Adams, whom Hughes called his greatest influence as a basketball coach. He was hired to coach Terrell in 1958, instantly becoming known as an innovator.
His teams at Terrell and Dunbar wore teams down with a fast pace.
“No one wanted to see us come down the floor like a bat out of hell,” Hughes said. “They weren’t prepared for that.”
Nor was anyone prepared for the lob pass known more commonly today as an alley-oop.
At his disposal in those first years was Benny Black, who could get up and get a basketball, Hughes said. The lob pass was so foreign that officials thought it was goal tending.
“We had to get the athletic director to explain to them that was not a shot, that was a pass,” Hughes said. “We invented that in 1960. It wasn’t that we were geniuses. We just figured if we could get something out of a player we were going to get it.
“His [advantage] was foot speed and the best pair of legs we’ve seen in many a day.”
To Dunbar alumni and the Stop Six community, it’s all part of a legacy worth recalling and ensuring it stays alive for students of today who never knew Hughes.
“Those students don’t know Coach Hughes,” Harden said. “So, this sheds so much light on their school history. For them to be made aware of this is a big deal.”
Robert Hughes Sr. Day
2:30-3:30 p.m. Friday
Dunbar High School, 5700 Ramey Ave.