Former TWC Star Willie Cager Larger Than Life in El Paso
Former Texas Western College basketball player Willie Cager passed away on the Miners' 57th anniversary of their win over Kentucky. The 81-year old was an El Pasoan through and through and he always had a spot at the baseline of the Don Haskins Center when he was in the arena to watch his alma mater.
Cager was as colorful a personality as you would find, always laughing and telling stories about his days playing for a young Don Haskins. He was also part of a special New York connection that The Bear had tapped into shortly after he arrived in El Paso in 1961. Thanks to a relationship with New York City community leader Hilton White, Haskins was able to recruit some of his best players from that area, including Willie Worsley, Nevil Shed, and Cager.
Although he was not able to play pro basketball due to his heart condition, Cager was a major part of the TWC teams that rose to prominence in the mid 1960s. When his career with the Miners came to an end in 1968, the man nicknamed Scoops had averaged 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. He also started in the famed 1966 NCAA Championship game and finished with eight points and six rebounds against Kentucky.
The thing I will remember most about Cager is his quiet yet confident personality. He loved to talk basketball and also about his early days growing up in the Bronx. He also loved top give back to the community. For years, he was the coordinator of the Ysleta Independent School District's After School Basketball Program. He also created the Willie Cager Foundation o raise money in order to build several multi-purpose athletic and academic complexes for El Paso's youngsters. Sadly, his dream never came to fruition. However, last March, the Willie Cager Endowed Basketball Scholarship was announced by the Miner Athletic Club. The scholarship is funded by donor Don Scott to honor Cager for his life's work.
His book, Playing With Heart, was released a few years ago. I had the opportunity to interview Willie on plenty of occasions over the years, including a memorable conversation on the Don Haskins Radio Show. I will miss the stories, the laugh, and the man that made El Paso his home for 60 years.