If you look up Nevil Shed online, you find hundreds of stories about his success as a member of the 1966 Texas Western Miners basketball team that defeated perennial powerhouse Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. The team made history as the first all-black starting five ever in the tournament, and the story was featured in the 2006 movie “Glory Road.”
But Shed made clear in his talk with students and others in the UWM community Oct. 4 and 5 that his life and success weren’t just about basketball. Now 75 and director of youth summer basketball camps for the San Antonio Spurs, he spent his early years in the Bronx.
In his talk, he touched on the challenges his family faced from the pervasive racism of the time – his father was a Pullman porter for the Pennsylvania Railroad and talked to young Shed about how he handled being called “boy” and treated as a menial because he needed to provide for his family.
When Shed became focused on becoming a success on the basketball court, his mother, a seamstress, warned him to get his education so he’d have something to fall back on if a pro career didn’t pan out. “She was right, so listen to your parents,” Shed told the UWM students.
When Shed headed south to play college basketball, he dealt with serious “culture shock,” in places where racism was even more blatant, he said, finding “whites only” signs above drinking fountains, movie theater doors and restrooms.
The team he played for, now the University of Texas at El Paso, went on to basketball and historical fame in 1966, and Shed was drafted by the Boston Celtics. An injury in training camp cut short his professional career. He went on to a career as a coach, including a stint as assistant coach at UWM from 1976-1979. He has been with the San Antonio Spurs for the past 25 years, and also works with the Boys & Girls Clubs as his way of giving back to the community.
He credits a number of factors to his success – his faith, family and being well-prepared for every day and every challenge. He also encouraged the students he talked to to keep trying and not to let themselves be discouraged.
He credits preparation and a positive attitude with his college team’s success against Kentucky in that critical game 52 years ago. “It wasn’t a black versus white thing,” he said. “We just wanted to win that game.”
That attitude continues to serve him well, he said, as he finds new opportunities. When his pro basketball possibilities ended, he built a new career as a coach and motivational speaker. “Then one day, the phone rang,” and it was the Disney Studios calling to see if he’d take part in a movie they were making about the team. He even ended up on a Wheaties box, one of many recognitions that he still enjoys.
Since the movie came out, he said with a laugh, he’s seen it several hundred times and recommended it to all the students and UWM community members at his talk.
Shed also chatted with UWM student athletes Friday morning and shared the movie with them.
“Glory Road” won an ESPY award as best sports movie in 2006, and the Texas Western Miners team was later inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The movie was also nominated for a Humanitas Award for its portrayal of racism, discrimination and student athletics in the 1960s.
“Nevil is a wonderful example of someone who did not let the ugliest of life experiences define him,” said School of Education Dean Alan Shoho, who has known Shed for many years. “He used the events to be a role model for anyone facing adversity,” and his story is very powerful. We had students from Bradley Tech and other MPS schools attend the events and I hope they walked away inspired.”
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