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Dick Harmon: BYU retires jerseys of two storied basketball players, Minnie and Hutch

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 11:10 p.m. MST

Roland Minson's jersey is retired at halftime of a men's basketball game at BYU in Provo on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PROVO —

Mel Hutchins was a muscular rebounding machine, a defensive pylon, and folks say guarding Roland Minson was like herding a cat; he was a basketball ghost.

Minnie and Hutch.

For most of a magic week in New York City in March 1951, they rocked Madison Square Garden back in the day when it was America’s premier sports palace. This weekend, these two men, now featuring snowy hair and lines in their faces, took a well-deserved, long overdue bow as their jerseys were pinned to the rafters at the Marriott Center on Saturday night.

This dynamic duo, now in their 80s and unknown to many BYU fans, brought their legendary faces front and center over the weekend on campus. Hutchins (No. 14) and Minson (No. 11) took to the court one more time Saturday night and met a giant ovation. The moment culminated a weekend in which BYU officials gave them the ultimate athletic salute.

“These players helped put BYU basketball on the map,” declared BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe.

Hutchins and Minson were giant cogs on BYU’s 1951 NIT championship team. It is way past debate that this honor is late in coming, 62 years after they made news reels that were traditionally shown in movie theaters across America. At the time, the NIT and the NCAA had almost equal status and Minnie and Hutch simply tore it up. BYU’s 1951 NIT title was the first national championship ever for the Cougar athletic program.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Minson, “I didn’t think they had files that old that were still legible.”

Indeed, Minson, they actually do.

Both were top-15 NBA draft picks. Hutchins was the defacto No. 1 NBA pick by Milwaukee and Minson went No. 15 to the New York Knicks in the NBA draft. Both were collegiate All-Americans and record busters in Cougar uniforms.

The 6-0 Minson was the 1951 NIT most valuable player after averaging 26.7 points a game with 26 points, 15 rebounds, 7 steals and 2 assists in the championship, a win over Dayton.

The 6-6 Hutchins, the 1951 College All-Star Game MVP, remains, after 62 seasons, BYU’s all-time leading rebounder (471). Hutchins and Wilt Chamberlain are the only two NBA players to lead the league in rebounding their rookie years.

“They were tremendous basketball players,” said former Utah State and BYU coach LaDell Andersen, who played against Minson in high school and college. “In my opinion, that 1951 BYU team was the best basketball team the school has ever had.”

Indeed, that 1951 team never played a game on campus, never had the home-court advantage others enjoyed. Because the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse was under construction, the team played at Springville High and then the University of Utah for league play. Yet, the 28 wins in 1951 stood as a school record for 59 seasons until the Jimmer Fredette-led team won 30 in 2010.

“Hutch was a great defender and Minson was an unbelievable shooter. He mastered the 15-foot shot and was very hard to stop,” said Andersen. “They were great young men and superstars of the era. I think, when I was at Utah State, I played against them 12 times and we were 2-10. I played high school ball against Roland, who was from Idaho Falls; I played for Malad. He is still a great friend.”

Ed Pinegar, only a teenager at BY High in 1951, remembers Hutchins and Minson in the prime of their college careers, living in the basement of his family’s Provo home.

“They are great guys and terrific ball players, but most of all, they were great gentlemen. Both of these men served missions for the (LDS) Church and have been outstanding representatives of their faith,” said Pinegar.

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