EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Willie Cager, a member of the 1965-66 Texas Western national championship winning team, died at the age of 81 on Sunday morning, according to his family.

Cager’s death came on the exact date Texas Western defeated Kentucky, 72-65, in the 1966 NCAA men’s college basketball championship game 57 years ago.

“He made you laugh. Kids always came up to him and he’d have a hug for them or something encouraging to say. It didn’t matter who it was. Everyone loved Willie Cager,” said Nevil Shed, Cager’s life-long friend and a fellow member of the 1966 team.

Cager was part of the 1966 Texas Western squad that made history. Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins put out an all-Black starting five in the NCAA Championship game against Kentucky. It was the first time five Black players started in a NCAA title game.

“It was a life-time friendship and you have to realize too, Cager was my roommate,” said Willie Worsley, another member of the 1966 team.

Cager, a sophomore at the time, was one of the five Black starters in the championship game. Cager started the game alongside Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley, and Dave Lattin.

“He had an art that was very unique of getting to the basket and he always felt like he was the best player. No one was better than Willie Cager,” said Nolan Richardson, a UTEP alum and former Arkansas head coach who helped recruit Cager to El Paso.

Willie Cager — Photo by Ken Blystone

Texas Western went onto defeat an Adolph Rupp-led Kentucky team, 72-65, in the NCAA men’s college basketball final in College Park, Maryland.

In that championship contest, Cager contributed eight points and six boards.

Texas Western’s journey to the 1966 NCAA championship was depicted in the 2006 film “Glory Road.” 

Cager appeared in 77 games for the Miners from 1965-68, averaging 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds while playing under head coach Haskins. 

Cager made El Paso home later in his life and became a fixture in the community. Cager worked as the coordinator of the Ysleta Independent School District’s After School Basketball Program. Cager also launched the Willie Cager Foundation. 

“It just meant so much to our program. We’d bring in players and recruits and he’d come by practice and that was it. You talk about it but he’s lived it and was a part of it. We’ll definitely miss him no doubt,” said UTEP head coach Joe Golding.

He has two sons, Kareem and Kenya, and a daughter, Kendeea. He is the sixth member of the 1966 team to pass away joining head coach Don Haskins and fellow players Harry Flournoy, Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis and Jerry Armstrong.