When seeing the previews for Glory Road, one cannot stop themselves from drawing strong comparisons to the 2000 film Remember the Titans.
Both are Walt Disney pictures produced by Jerry Bruckheimer about a sports team trying to overcome the odds of being an underdog, while dealing with the turbulent race relations in the 1960s.
Both involve the introduction of a new coach with a different philosophy on how the game should be played. The result for Remember the Titans: a decent, feel-good family film. Glory Road? The same.
The film takes us to Texas when the civil rights movement was in full swing. Enter Don Haskins (played by Josh Lucas), a washed up college basketball star who, after coaching his squad to the state girls’ basketball championship, accepts the head coaching position at Division I-A Texas Western (now Texas El-Paso).
The dilemma for Haskins: The university is financially strapped and does not have the necessary resources to recruit the nation’s finest.
Their budget is so poor that Haskins and his family are forced to live in the boys’ dormitory and eat at the school’s cafeteria. The solution: Haskins does what many deemed unthinkable back then, and recruits some of the country’s best black high school basketball players.
Implementing a John Chaney-style of play consisting of controlled possessions and scathing defense, Haskins shows his team how to play “the right way” as the Miners coast to a dazzling 23-1 record.
Along their path of success the team faces many hardships, mainly because they were one of few teams in the country with a black majority squad. The Miners were harassed everywhere they went, and many hate crimes resulted. Such issues eventually lead to the disintegration of team chemistry, facing off the white players against the black players.
But in typical Disney fashion, after a rousing speech by Haskins, the team comes together and prepares for a final showdown in the national championship game against perennial powerhouse the University of Kentucky, a team with all white players led by legendary coach Adolph Rupp (played by Jon Voight).
Once again Haskins does the unthinkable, and in the midst of all the hoopla decides to play only his black players for the big game, becoming the first team to ever start an all-black lineup for an NCAA Championship game.
The result of the game is predictable, and Texas Western aptly plays the role of the Cinderella squad that wins the heart of a nation.
Citing the success of Texas Western, many colleges in the South soon began to aggressively recruit black athletes, helping to quell the idea that black players couldn’t be a part of a successful program.
Lucas does an exceptional job portraying Haskins as an old school, southern, no-nonsense coach who does whatever it takes to grind the best out of his players. He makes up for his flop in the summer snoozer Stealth with a solid performance in the lead role.
Voight, who did a superb job depicting the controversial sportscaster Howard Cosell in the 2001 film Ali, continues his excellence as the grouchy, arrogant Adolph Rupp, Kentucky’s most successful basketball coach.
Though the film insinuates that Rupp was a racist who refused to recruit black players, the issue is sketchy, and evidence seems to support that the notion is not entirely true.
If you’re looking for an entertaining sports film that lacks a storyline but is heavy on fast, action-packed hoops scenes, then Glory Road will suffice.
Michael Mudrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.