EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – If you went to the Don Haskins Center for a UTEP men’s basketball game, it was almost certain you would’ve run into Willie Cager, a player on that 1966 Texas Western squad that made history.
That was also the case when it came to every Parkland High School boys basketball game the last few years.
“Willie Cager was a staple on our sideline at the end of our bench,” Parkland boys basketball head coach Jeremy Vanley said. “You came to home games, and he was there.”
“We would go and play at Del Valle and everybody would be like ‘Oh yeah, he came out to Del Valle to watch Del Valle play.’ No, here’s here with us, Parkland.” Parkland senior guard Julian Moreno said.
Willie Cager’s loyalty to the Parkland Matadors stems from the fact that his son, Kareem Cager, is an assistant varsity coach. Kareem joined the Matadors’ coaching staff in the 2021-22 season and ever since, Willie was on the end of the bench watching his son coach a very successful Matadors team.
“It was just awesome to see him being able to be a proud dad and watch his son work the sidelines.” Vanley said.
Willie was a proud father and served as a father figure to many players on the team.
“I felt privileged a little bit because I feel a lot of people did not have that access to him like I did,” Parkland senior guard Isiah Medrano said. “Being able to talk to him and ask him for advice about basketball or whatever I needed.”
“He had a great connection with us kids, he had been watching us since we were little,” Moreno said. “I am talking 8 or 9 years old and then he got to watch us progress.”
In the 2022-23 season, Willie Cager got a front row seat to watch Parkland put together one of its best seasons ever. The Matadors collected 26 wins in the season, won the District 2-5A title, and made a deep playoff run to the Class 5A Regional Quarterfinals. In that round, Parkland faced off with Chapin at a place where you can find some of Willie Cager’s history in: The Don Haskins Center. Parkland went onto lose to Chapin in the game but it was still a moment they were happy to be a part of.
“I think that really was the peak of our high school basketball careers,” Moreno said. “Being there, playing at that gym, with him [Willie Cager] in the building.”
“Just the fact that he was at the game but that he was also going for us, I felt like that was the biggest thing.” Medrano said.
Along with the memory of playing at the Don Haskins Center with Willie Cager in attendance, the team will also carry the memories they made with Willie.
“His laughter, man. That laugh would make anyone smile in this world. Or when he says ‘hello’.” Moreno said.
“When we sat courtside next to him at the UTEP game. Me, Julian [Moreno], and Tyrone [McDuffie III]. That was a core memory right there.” Medrano said.”
“They look up to him [Willie Cager] because they know of his success,” Vanley said. “But they also know him as a person, as a human being, and how he treated them, and I feel those things are going to be with them the rest of their lives.”
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.