For a long time, Don Abbott was a fixture around Hobbs basketball.
He left for spells – to attend college in Colorado, to coach in Gallup, Farmington and Levelland. But Abbott was a Hobbs guy, an Eagle first.
Abbott, who passed away recently, attended Hobbs High, graduating in 1959. He was one of legendary Hobbs coach Ralph Tasker’s varsity assistants from 1965 to 1967, and was back as a varsity assistant and boys jayvee coach from 1984 to 1993.
Abbott apparently learned a lot from Task-er, his mentor. Those who remember watching Abbott coach, remember a lively, vocal man, and h i s whirling dervish of an offense that kept fans entertained.
Among those who remember that offense – and among those entertained – was Chuck Edwards Ashcraft, who broad-casted Farmington basketball games on the radio from 1969-74, during the stretch when Abbott was Farmington’s boys basketball head coach.
“Of course he ran the traditional Ralph Tasker offense and defense,” Ashcraft recalled. “He ran a fast-break offense, up-tempo game. He basically played what Tasker always played, and then he played the full-court, man-to-man defense. I learned how to talk fast broadcasting his games. While most people could read eight lines in 30 seconds, I could read 10 or 11 lines in 30 seconds. People used to complain that I talked too fast.”
But it was a requirement for the job when Abbott coached the Scorpions.
“I think one year we averaged 98 points per game,” Ashcraft said.
Abbott guided Farmington to four state tournament appearances, including one third-place finish.
“They don’t play the third-place game anymore,” Ashcraft said, “but it used to be when you lost in the semifinals you’d turn around and play the third-place game.”
Abbott’s success in Farmington was part of a long and circuitous career that led him from Hobbs, around the mountain west and southwest, then back home to Hobbs.
After graduating from Hobbs High, Abbott went on to attend Fort Lewis Junior College in Durango, Colorado, where he played basketball well enough to earn All-Conference honors.
Abbott moved on to play for Colorado State, but when Fort Lewis switched from a two-year to four-year school, Abbott returned there to finish his studies, along with a career that would eventually land him in the Fort Lewis Athletic Hall of Fame.
Abbott was a head coach at Gallup Cathedral High School in addition to Farmington, but he is likely best remembered in Hobbs for being one of Tasker’s trusted assistants.
Hobbs resident Rick Shed recalls that part.
“I know he was pretty intense sometimes,” Shed said. “Coach Tasker always referred to his assistant coaches as co-coaches. … Coach Tasker was usually the good guy and his assistant coaches were usually the ones that did the discipline. The assistant coaches would come in and chew you out, and Coach Tasker would come in and say, ‘Keep your chin up, you need to work some more, you’re doing a good job.’ What I remember about Abbott, he was the bad cop, but he was popular with the players too.”
When he moved on to Farmington, Abbott brought a slice of Hobbs basketball with him, sticking adamantly to the fast-break offense. Ashcraft remembers a game where Albuquerque High was routing Farmington, but Abbott didn’t alter his game plan.
“You’d think he’d slow it down and spread it out to try and keep the score down,” Ashcraft said. “But he didn’t; he kept on playing his brand of ball. … ‘You live by the bullet, you die by the bullet’, I guess was his philosophy.”
And as a result, the Eagles’ loss margin that day was in the 50-point range. But Abbott had far more success in his career than games like that.
The fast-break offense was what Abbott had been trained to employ, the scheme that was the most comfortable fit for him. It was a matter of coaches’ choices, what strategy they opted to use.
“Back in those days more teams played a more controlled, disciplined type of offense,” said Ashcraft, who is now based out of Weatherford, Oklahoma. “Hank Iba was known as the father of Oklahoma basketball for years. He was known for his defense. He’d pass the ball maybe 10 times before someone took a shot. It may have sounded like they were low-scoring games, but it was about tempo.”
So, vice-versa that with the offense Abbott chose to run.
“When the scores are higher, it may seem like you’re not playing any defense,” Ash-craft said, “but it’s about tempo.”