(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.
Deseret News feature on Forgotten Champions
Purchase Forgotten Champions on Amazon.com
Excerpt from Forgotten Champions, Chapter 14: The Great Mel Hutchins
There have been a handful of truly great basketball players in BYU basketball history. A shortlist of BYU's finest would have to include Danny Ainge, Michael Smith, Devin Durrant, Kresimir Cosic, and of course most recently, Jimmer Fredette. And while those five basketball icons have their place in Cougar hardwood history, no list of all-time BYU players is complete without the great Mel Hutchins.
Mel is without question one of the most prolific rebounders in BYU history. After more than 60 seasons, he still holds the school record for most rebounds in a season. Mel pulled down the still-standing school record 471 rebounds in 1950-51, with an average of 12.7 rebounds per game. The shot clock wasn't implemented at the college level for another 40 plus seasons, and so, in games where teams employed a slow-down tactic, there were fewer rebounds to be had. To put Mel's 471 rebounds in perspective, the 2nd best single season rebounding total in Cougar basketball history is 352, by Brett Applegate in 1983-84.
Mel was one of the rare college players whose dominance instantly carried over to the professional level; he led the NBA in rebounding during his rookie season, averaging an eye-popping 13.3 rebounds per game. With 9.2 points per game to go along with his impressive rebounding and lock-down defense, Mel was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1952.
In his first NBA season, Mel set the single season rebounding record for a player 6'6 or under, with 880 rebounds. He also set, and still holds, the NBA record for being the shortest player to lead the league in rebounding. Unofficially, he also set the record for average number of rebounds per game for a player under 6'6, with an average of 13.3 in 1951-52. That record stood for 35 seasons. Out of the blue, on a late spring day in 1987, Mel received a telephone call from someone named Charles regarding that record:
The Caller identified himself as Charles. I told him that I knew a Charles that lived in Sacramento, but it didn't sound like him. He sounded a little frustrated, and said, “This is Sir Charles.” I told him I'd never heard of that. He raised his voice and said, “This is Sir Charles Barkley, and I just broke your record!” I told him that I was six-foot-five, and 200 pounds. Since he was 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, how come it took him nearly 50 years to break it? We both had a good laugh.
The storied basketball career of Mel Hutchins is one that almost never materialized. Mel was first recruited to play football at Brigham Young University. He had been a two-sport star at Arcadia High in California, gaining most of his recognition as a two-way star on the football team, playing tight end on offense and defensive end on the other side of the ball. His first collegiate offer came from Harvard, who also wanted him for football. With his height and great leaping ability, Mel was a force on the gridiron, with the ability to outreach defenders on fade routes in the end-zone. He eventually committed to play football at BYU, where Eddie Kimball was the current coach. After arriving several days late for summer camp, Hutchins suffered leg cramps, and Kimball told him to go jog it off in the gym. Coach Floyd Millet of the basketball team noticed him there, and eventually persuaded Hutch and Coach Kimball that the long-armed Hutchins would be a greater asset to BYU as a basketball player than a football player.