SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Utes basketball took center stage at halftime of Saturday’s NCAA tournament game between Arizona and Harvard at EnergySolutions Arena.
Arnie Ferrin, Wat Misaka and Herb Wilkinson received a warm round of applause as representatives of Utah’s 1944 NCAA championship team. Utah athletics director Chris Hill was also on hand. He presented the 87-year-old Ferrin, who flashed a "U” hands signal to the crowd, with an award for being named one of the top players in the 75-year-old history of March Madness.
“It’s great for the university,” Hill said. “It’s fun when Arnie puts his ‘U’ up there in front of everybody.”
Hill added that it was great recognition for the players, who led Utah to a 42-40 overtime win over Dartmouth in the finals. Wilkinson hit the winning shot with five seconds remaining.
“It’s a joy to be part of it. It’s a great part of our history," Hill said of the halftime ceremony. “It’s so special. I think you could tell there with those gentlemen how special it was for them. It’s always fun to be around people like that.”
The joy, he continued, was seeing how much they enjoyed it.
“Sixty-nine years ago, who would have ever have thought that it might end up like this — in Salt Lake City getting a recognition because Herb Wilkinson made a basket at the end of the game?” Ferrin said. “... I think the reason that we were successful in playing is because we had an internal relationship with each other as players and it’s continued to this day. A team means you have a chance to do good things.”
Utah’s 1944 championship squad played only six players and started four freshmen. Ferrin, who was one of the youngsters, earned most outstanding player recognition.
HAPPY HOSTS: Salt Lake City tournament manager Steve Pyne said the University of Utah’s 18th hosting of a portion of the NCAA tourney was “awesome” and that everything went smoothly.
“Like I’ve said before, we’ve assembled a great group of people that run this and they’ve done a amazing job,” Pyne said.
Utah, he continued, will put out a bid in the next couple of months to host the second and third rounds, as well as the West Regionals, for 2016 and 2017.
Although Hill noted that you never take anything for granted and that the NCAA likes to spread things around, he’s hopeful the Utes will be awarded another opportunity to host soon.
“We hope our community can keep supporting it,” said Hill, who added that he’s received absolutely positive feedback about the hospitality surrounding the event.
Hill is especially pleased with his staff.
“It’s a cultural thing for them. They just give up their time. They work extra hours,” he said. “I couldn’t be more fortunate than to have the folks around in our department that just get after it every day.”
GOOD DRAW: Attendance at the three sessions in Salt Lake City drew a combined crowd of 44,581 — 14,176 and 14,345 on Thursday and 16,060 on Saturday.
Pyne said the numbers were positive.
“With all the social media and the opportunity to receive it on your iPad, or your smartphone, or your computer at work, Salt Lake City is a basketball city,” Pyne said. “Therefore, we are going to bid again, like I’ve said before, and we can pack this place again.“
GREAT RESOURCE: Former Utah head coach and current Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti said he has good basketball company in Spokane four times a week.
Hall of Famer and ex-Utah Jazzman John Stockton lifts weights and works out at the same place as Giacoletti. Another workout regular: Stockton’s wife Nada.
“It’s great,” Giacoletti said. “I get to talk with one of the greatest basketball players of all time for half an hour, four times a week.”
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Contributing: Brad Rock