Excerpt from Forgotten Champions, The Year 1951

(Photo by BYU Photo)

With the jersey retirement for Mel Hutchins and Roland Minson just two days away, here's another exerpt from the book Forgotten Champions by Rocky Steele. Published in 2011, Forgotten Champions remembers BYU’s 1951 NIT Championship. BYU hosts Portland in the Marriott Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. MST and tickets are available at BYUtickets.com. The jersey retirements will be held at halftime.

Previous excerpt on Mel Hutchins

Previous except on Roland Minson

Deseret News feature on Forgotten Champions

Purchase Forgotten Champions on Amazon.com

Excerpt from Forgotten Champions, Chapter 2: The Year 1951

BYU basketball was experiencing a revival in the fall of 1950. The program had been fairly competitive in its early history, but fell on hard times from the mid 1930's to the late 1940's. In 1948, BYU won its first basketball conference championship since 1934, taking top honors in the recently formed Skyline (also called Mountain States) Conference. In 1950, BYU won its second conference championship in three years, led by senior Joe Nelson, and junior stars Roland Minson and Mel Hutchins. The Cougars suffered an early postseason exit, leaving a bitter taste in the player’s mouths that they were determined not to experience again.

The players on the 1951 BYU basketball team were a group of all-American boys, who were making their way in the world, just like everyone else. Collegiate athletics did not enjoy the massive revenue that it does today, and that was directly reflected in the lives of the players. When the BYU basketball team played in the Los Angeles Invitational during the 1950 season, coaches and team members had to scrounge up enough gas coupons to make the run down to Southern California and back. To supplement their athletic scholarships, the members of the basketball team held down odd-jobs to make ends meet. Team members held wide-ranging temporary employment positions, including the job of clock-winder at a local bank, glazier at Bennett’s Glass and Paint, and ankle-and-knee taper for the university football team.

The players on the 1951 team did just about everything together. They studied, practiced, attended worship services, dated, and ate in groups. Their cohesiveness off of the court affected their play on it. These players really enjoyed each others' company, and it showed. 

For years after, when discussing the depth of his basketball teams, Coach Watts would reference the ‘51 squad. While Hutchins and Minson starred, fellow starters Joe Richey (forward), Harold 'Chris' Christensen (guard), and Jerry Romney (guard) led the team at varying times. Top reserves Bob Craig, Dick Jones, Russ Hillman and Boyd Jarman provided starter-level play off the bench, consistently performing at high levels when called upon. Sometimes, the most unlikely of heroes saved the day, swinging momentum towards BYU in a critical moment.