SYRACUSE - Every player in the Sweet 16 realizes that going a long way in the NCAA Tournament is an experience that can change his life. Khadeem Lattin, a freshman for Oklahoma, realizes that it can do more than that.

He grew up hearing the stories, reading books and watching a movie about the time David "Big Daddy" Lattin, his grandfather, played in the 1966 final. Lattin was the starting center for Texas Western, the first major-college team to start five black players, as it stunned Kentucky, an all-white team, in what has been called the most important college game ever played.

That game leveled stereotypes -- Texas Western was better at defense and ball control, to the astonishment of people who had previewed the contest -- and opened countless doors.

"He just says it was something cool," said the younger Lattin, a 6-9 forward from Houston whose team faced Michigan State in an East Regional semifinal late Friday night. "In the moment, he didn't really know, but maybe a few months, a few years afterward, it really dawned on him. It was like, 'We did that.' He helped change the world and the game we love.

"When someone does that, it really is an amazing experience to have. It really is a point of pride in the family. It's like, hey, that's part of my lineage. Now let me go build upon it."

Khadeem Lattin was in elementary school when "Glory Road," a movie about the game, was released by Disney. He still was a youngster when his grandfather published a book, "Slam Dunk to Glory," which was inspired at least in part by the second possession of that Texas Western victory, when Lattin emphatically slammed the ball through the hoop over Kentucky's Pat Riley.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The freshman was able to grow up in a world and a game far different from the way they looked 49 years ago last week, when coach Don Haskins' decision to start five African-American players drew skepticism and derision. His team's triumph over Adolph Rupp's team during the height of the civil rights movement resounds in places such as the new autobiography by Texas Western guard Willie Worsley of the Bronx, a former Net who coached Spring Valley to the state Class A semifinals after winning the Section I title earlier this month.

David Lattin, 71, who lives in Houston and is retired from his job as an executive for a liquor company, "talks about it a little bit," his grandson said, adding that "Big Daddy" also tells some stories about having played in the NBA and ABA.

Truth be told, though, much of the Oklahoma player's basketball advice comes from his mother, Monica Lamb, who played for USC and the WNBA's Houston Comets and won three titles in the latter spot.

"My mom hasn't played in so long," Lattin said. "She's super- competitive, so if she can't do what she used to be able to do, she doesn't do it. We have this ongoing joke that when I beat her, that's when she stopped playing."

He has a way to go to have bragging rights, though. Despite having been a top 75 national recruit out of Redemption Christian Home School Academy, he is a substitute, entering Friday night averaging 1.9 points and 3.2 rebounds in 11.8 minutes.

His mother and grandfather have championship rings to show. The latter is part of American history.

The younger Lattin said, "I would love to carry the torch."