Utah Basketball Officially Honors Jersey Of Legend Wat Misaka

Jan 22, 2022, 5:33 PM | Updated: 8:18 pm
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)...
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)
(Photo courtesy of Utah Athletics)

SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah men’s basketball program officially honored the jersey of legend Wat Misaka on Saturday afternoon.

Wat Misaka now has his No. 20 jersey hanging in the rafters of the Jon M. Huntsman Center as the Runnin’ Utes were facing the USC Trojans.

Utah basketball held the ceremony during halftime of the game. His jersey hangs in the rafters next to his teammate and friend Arnie Ferrin.

Utah Athletics announced in February of 2020 that they would honor Misaka’s jersey after a resolution to honor him was introduced by Senator Jani Iwamoto on February 20, 2020. The resolution made note of Misaka’s significant contributions as a citizen of Utah and his historical achievements.

“When we announced in February 2020 that we will commemorate the legacy of Wat Misaka by honoring his jersey, we looked forward to an incredible celebration with his family in the Jon M. Huntsman Center,” said Director of Athletics Mark Harlan. “This celebration was delayed by a year because of the pandemic, but we are so excited now to have the date set to join with his family and our great fans to honor a true trailblazer and pioneer, of whom we are so proud.”

Misaka led Utah basketball to the two National Championships in 1944 and 1947. He became the first non-Caucasian player in the Basketball Association of America (predecessor to the NBA) in 1947.

Being inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999, Misaka was known as the Jackie Robinson of basketball. He was also inducted into the University of Utah’s Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 2011.

Misaka was a point guard for the Utes on the 1944 National Championship team and the 1947 squad that took home the 1947 NIT Championship.

During those two seasons, he was drafted into the military and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

“It’s an honor and privilege for our basketball program here at the University of Utah to have an alumnus like Wat Misaka, who was a trailblazer in our sport,” said Utah head men’s basketball coach Craig Smith. “Our program’s history is special, and we’re thrilled to have the Misaka family join us as we hoist his jersey up into the rafters to be honored with all the other great Runnin’ Utes that have played here.”

Known for his tenacious defense, Misaka guided Utah to a National Championship in 1944 and a 22-4 overall record. During that run, Utah lost to Kentucky in the more prestigious NIT Tournament. After the defeat, the Utes were asked to take the place of Arkansas in the eight-team NCAA Tournament.

Utah started the tournament with a 45-35 win over Missouri and took down Iowa State 40-31. Misaka combined for 14 points in those two games. When Utah returned to New York City, Misaka impressed the New Yorkers with his play in the NIT Tournament in the previous week.

In the National Championship game, Misaka scored four points in Utah’s 42-40 overtime win over Dartmouth at Madison Square Garden.

Misaka returned from his service during World War II in 1947 and led the Utes to the 1947 NIT Title, getting revenge over the Kentucky Wildcats with a 49-45 victory. The Wildcats were led by head coach Adolph Rupp. The Utes finished the season with a 19-5 overall record and a 10-2 mark in the Skyline Conference.

After a successful college career with the Utes, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947. He was the first person of color to play in the NBA. Back then, the league was called the Basketball Association of America. Misaka played in three games during the 1947-48 season and scored seven points.

Misaka returned to Utah to begin a career as an electrical engineer by using his bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah.

In August of 2018 in Ogden, Utah – Misaka’s hometown – honored him with the “Kilowatt Court” at Liberty Park.

Misaka was also the Terasaki Bugokan’s guest of honor in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo two months earlier. He was mentioned by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 when he spoke at the opening ceremony to mark the formation of the President’s Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

In 2008, Bruce Johnson and Christine Johnson directed, “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story.”

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com, Co-Host of Faith, Family and Football podcast with Clark Phillips III and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports.

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