Mac Engel

Dunbar’s Robert Hughes deserves his one shining moment in the Hall

Former Dunbar coach Robert Hughes Sr., center, celebrates with his team after winning the 2003 Class 4A state title, the last of his five state championships, including three at I.M. Terrell.
Former Dunbar coach Robert Hughes Sr., center, celebrates with his team after winning the 2003 Class 4A state title, the last of his five state championships, including three at I.M. Terrell. Star-Telegram

Robert Hughes insists it is not a big deal, and he is not expecting the call, but regardless of what you think of this man, he deserves his moment.

Walking around Fort Worth Dunbar High School on Tuesday afternoon — two days before the boys basketball team will play in the state tournament in San Antonio — it’s apparent Hughes’ legacy lives on through his son everywhere around this campus.

From the locker room to the coaches’ office to listening to Robert Hughes Jr. talk about his team or the game of basketball, it’s as if the old man never left.

Hughes was called every word in the English language, plus a few others, during his long tenure at Dunbar High School and, even if you are one of those who didn’t like him, it does not mean he did not earn recognition as one of the game’s best.

No person could have done more and embodied the spirit of this school more than Hughes.

He was a constant pain in the butt to countless administrators over many generations, but he was a fighter at a school where fighting is a necessary skill.

Hughes deserves to be voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next month, and if his son’s team wins the state title this weekend, that would be a fitting end to what would be the finest month in the history of this school.

For the record: Hughes says he is just fine if he gets in or he doesn’t. He’s not making any plans.

“With him, it really don’t matter,” Hughes Jr. said.

To which I say bull.

“Oh, he would love to get in, but he knows all of the politics to get in,” Hughes Jr. said. “He would take it, but he knows. He knows he’s already supposed to be in. But he knows all the bureaucracy that goes on. He’s not going to lose any sleep over it if he doesn’t get in.”

This should not even be a debate.

In February, the Basketball Hall of Fame released the finalists for 2016 enshrinement; Hughes is on the list again, as is former Granbury girls coach Leta Andrews. These two need 18 of 24 votes by a committee to be inducted.

It would help if Hughes campaigned at least a little but, throughout his career, butt kissing was not something he was as eager to do.

For voters on the fence, please allow me to be of service: Put these two in. Now. Quit embarrassing yourself and make these two Texas giants Hall of Famers.

How Hughes is not in reeks of bias, or at least ignorance.

Hughes ranks first in the nation in wins for a high school boys basketball coach. That should do it. Everything a high school coach could do, he did it and more without a parade of Parade All-Americans.

He said the best player who ever played for him was a kid you’ve likely never heard of — Lee Shaw.

Hughes always just had Wildcats — kids who just got after it.

He coached during segregation and integration. Whatever you thought of his fights with the Fort Worth school district or UIL, or his motivations for doing so, the man was a pillar in his community for nearly five decades.

We will not find out if Hughes is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame until April 4 — a few hours before the NCAA men’s title game is played in Houston.

He needs to go in this year. Although Hughes looks and sounds good, he is 87. His wife died in 2014 and, if the Hall of Fame is going to put him in, it should do it now while he can enjoy a moment he deserves.

It would be nice if Hughes could enjoy that just a few weeks after his son coached “their” team to another state title. It would be Dunbar’s first since Hughes Jr. was awarded the 2006 title after the UIL stripped Dallas South Oak Cliff of that championship for using an ineligible player.

Hughes Jr. has actually succeeded in the impossible task of replacing his dad in the same gym, locker room and office. Other than a few down years, not much has changed. In the hallways and classrooms at Dunbar, the name Coach Hughes still means something.

In other gyms and to other teams all over Texas, the name “Fort Worth Dunbar” still means something. It’s a brand you know. This is another typical Dunbar team: It doesn’t have much height and there are no obvious Division I college players.

This will be Hughes Jr.’s third time in the state tournament. Dunbar lost in the 2007 semifinals. Despite being awarded the 2006 title (in 2008), the school missed out on the championship celebration.

“There’s no trophy or anything — they just say you won it,” Hughes Jr. said of the 2006 championship.

The school and the community will host a rally for the team at 9 a.m.Wednesday before the players and coaches depart for San Antonio. Hughes Sr. is expected to travel to San Antonio on Thursday morning, in time to make the 8:30 p.m. tip-off against Fort Bend Elkins. If all goes according to plan, he will return home and then go back down to Houston on April 4 to accept his rightful spot in the Hall of Fame.

Hughes feels his résumé is final, but a Hall of Fame without the winningest coach in boys high school basketball history is incomplete.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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