Ken DeWeese became a college basketball coach in 1975 when he was hired as an assistant at Texas-El Paso, the only team in the state to win the NCAA men’s title.
Thirty-eight years after he was hired by Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins — who grabbed the nation’s attention by starting an all-black lineup in the 1966 national championship game against Kentucky — DeWeese stands on the doorstep of another milestone.
On Sunday in Atlanta, DeWeese’s team at Mary Hardin-Baylor will play in the championship game of the NCAA Division III tournament. The Crusaders (27-5), who are led by a pair of seniors from Central Texas high schools, will become the first Division III champion from Texas if they defeat Amherst in the final.
Forwards Thomas Orr of Hutto and Brian Todd of Pflugerville are the driving forces of a Mary Hardin-Baylor team that reached the Division III Final Four for the first time. The championship game will be televised at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on CBS.
Orr and Todd, roommates for two years, have come a long way since they were high school standouts. Overlooked by major college programs, they regarded Mary Hardin-Baylor as a welcome alternative, although Division III athletes don’t receive scholarships tied to their sports.
“Playing basketball in college has helped me stay focused on grades instead of being lazy and not wanting to get out of bed,” said Orr, recently named to the All-American Southwest Conference’s first team.
The 6-foot-5-inch Orr, who transferred from Panola College in Carthage before the 2011-12 season, averages a team-high 14.8 points a game. Todd, who’s 6-4, was voted the conference’s player of the year in the West Division for a second time.
“Ever since high school, I’ve been a defensive player,” said Todd, who has helped the Crusaders hold their opponents to 62 points a game. “We can’t lose if the opponent doesn’t score.”
Defense has been the foundation of DeWeese’s teams. Since taking over as the head coach at McLennan Community College in 1980, a post he held for 16 years, the coach has compiled a career record of 691-229.
DeWeese’s defense-comes-first mentality originated at UTEP. Haskins often invited his own college coach, Hank Iba, another defensive stickler, to speak to his players.
“After we won a big game (at McLennan) by the score of 121-101, I got a call from Haskins the following morning around 7,” DeWeese said. “I thought he was calling to say congratulations on the win. And the first thing he said was, ‘Why are you giving up 101?’ I told him we played a great, up-tempo game, and he repeated, ‘Why are you giving up 101?’ ”
Mary Hardin-Baylor opened the Division III tournament with a wild 117-92 victory over Concordia Texas, but the Crusaders didn’t allow more than 67 points in their next three tournament wins. They topped St. Thomas 74-67 on March 23 to reach the Division III final.
“There aren’t enough (athletic) scholarships for every high school athlete who wants to play in college,” DeWeese said. “Some people might think Division III is glorified intramurals, but if you take the time to watch a game, you will see a lot of athletes who are good enough to play Division I.”