EL PASO, Texas, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Bobby Joe Hill, the catalyst of Texas Western's historic national championship team in 1966, died Sunday night at age 59.
The cause of death is unknown.
Hill was a starting guard and scored 20 points in Texas Western's 72-65 win over top-ranked Kentucky in the 1966 national championship game. In that contest, Texas Western's Don Haskins became the first coach to start five black players in the championship game. In contrast, Kentucky was comprised of all white players.
To this day, Texas Western, which later changed its school name to Texas El-Paso, remains the only Division I school in the state to capture a national championship in men's basketball.
"I am deeply, deeply saddened by the death of Bobby Joe Hill," said former UTEP coach Don Haskins in a statement. "Bobby Joe was the greatest leader, the greatest competitor I have ever had. What he and his teammates accomplished speaks for itself. There have been so many television specials, so many stories written around the country, and now they are making a movie about it. Bobby Joe was such a nice guy. He always had a smile for everyone. He will be missed. This is a sad day in our house and a sad day for El Paso sports fans. My sympathies go out to Bobby Joe's family."
"I always considered him to be the steering wheel to our mack truck," said Nevil Shed, one of Hill's teammates on the title team. "He was my roommate on the road and always kept my spirits up. He's such a positive person. It's a shame. We take advantage of life."
Hill averaged a team-leading 15 points per game in that championship season and was named to the Final Four All-Tournament Team after averaging 20.2 points in five NCAA Tournament games.
"Bobby was not only a great basketball player, he was a great person," said David Lattin, another member of the 1965-66 team. "He could figure out what any team in the world was doing five minutes into the game. He was very clever. It's difficult to describe just how good he was."
The passing of Hill is the second tragedy to hit the UTEP basketball program in the last three months.
Jim Barnes, an All-American during the 1963-64 season when he averaged 29.2 points and 19.2 rebounds per contest, died on Sept. 14. Barnes, whose jersey has been retired by the school, is the Miners' all-time leading rebounder and eighth-leading scorer.