(Photo by BYU Photo)
In the weeks leading up to the jersey retirement for Mel Hutchins and Roland Minson, BYUcougars.com will share excerpts from the book Forgotten Champions by Rocky Steele. Published in 2011, Forgotten Champions remembers BYU’s 1951 NIT Championship. The jersey retirement game will be Feb. 16 against Portland in the Marriott Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST and tickets are available at BYUtickets.com.
Previous excerpt on Mel Hutchins
Deseret News feature on Forgotten Champions
Purchase Forgotten Champions on Amazon.com
Excerpt from Forgotten Champions, Chapter 15: Roland "The Cat" Minson
By the end of the 1951 season, Roland Minson was the leading scorer in Brigham Young University history with 1,407 career points. “The Cat,” as he was often called, held the career scoring record at BYU for 22 seasons, until Kresimir Cosic broke it towards the end of his senior season in 1973. Minson was co-captain of the 1950-51 BYU team, leading the team with 16.7 points (team high), 5.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists (team high), per game. Roland also led the Skyline Conference in scoring, and was named first team All-Conference for the third straight season. He was named a 4th team All-American by Converse Basketball Yearbook (he was also named Honorable Mention All-American by the AP, UPI, and International Press).
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Roland’s college basketball career were the hundreds of requests for his appearance in the East-West All-Star game. Fans were so enamored by his athleticism and pure basketball talent that they just had to see him one more time. The Greensburg Daily Tribune lamented after the NCAA tournament that Minson would have been the favorite to win the NCAA tournament MVP award if that tournament had been played first.
Roland had a tough decision to make after he was selected with the #15 pick in the 1951 NBA draft by the New York Knicks. The Knicks were one of the most prestigious clubs in professional basketball, but playing in the NBA wasn’t a foregone conclusion for “The Cat.” Roland was soon to be married, and he correctly figured that an NBA career might cause him to move around quite a bit. Additionally, the Korean War was still on, and Roland felt an intense desire to serve his country. This he did, joining the Navy and spending 3 ½ years as an Ensign. However, his playing career wasn’t entirely over; Roland was selected to play on the All-Navy team, and he competed against various civilian and Armed Forces opponents while fulfilling his other responsibilities. He once played a game in the belly of a U.S. warship. Minson described playing on the All-Navy team as one of his favorite experiences in the military. “I never dreamed I would have a chance to play some more basketball. It was wonderful to lace up the sneakers again.”
As the end of his military service drew near, the New York Knicks front office approached Roland once again, inviting him to take them up on the contract they had offered him four years earlier. The Knicks would come away disappointed a second time:
I’ve never really regretted not taking the NBA offer. I accomplished what I set out to, and it was enough for me. NBA players made good money, but it wasn’t the big bucks they make now, and that probably made it easier. I was always proud of my friend Mel Hutchins and the marvelous professional career he had. I remember watching him on television once, and being so proud of him. But it just wasn’t for me.
Roland was embarrassed by the attention he received from recruiters. The first time a coach arrived at the Minson residence to recruit the blooming star, Roland hid in the bathroom. Playing ostrich didn’t last long, as Roland’s mother demanded that he come out and meet with the coaches. After several months of receiving visiting coaches, young Roland hitch-hiked his way down to Salt Lake City, where he committed to the University of Utah. “I committed to Utah, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it, so I did what my upbringing taught me to do, and I prayed about it. I felt that I should go to BYU, so I did,” Minson later recalled. “I knew that was where I was supposed to be.”