Perhaps the New York Times said it best back in the spring of 1951 in regards to BYU sharpshooter Roland Minson.
“If there is a better player to play in the 14 years of this [NIT] Tournament, we haven’t seen him.”
Minson, a current resident of Star Valley and father to Geri Scherbel and David Minson will have his jersey retired on February 16 at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah as the Cougars host Portland. With 61 years having passed since he took his last official shot for BYU, Minson was a bit shocked to hear the news.
“I’ll say it was a surprise,” he laughed. “I told them they waited way too long. I’ve got so many posterity that I’ll fill up the gym with my kids.”
Minson will be one of just four players to ever have their numbers retired by the university along with former team mate Mel Hutchins.
“It was inevitable for Mel,” Minson added. “We share the honor and it’s as it should be. He was maybe the most unselfish player I ever played with. He had the capability to be the highest scoring person in every game but chose to be a marvelous team player. He cleared the boards and shut down the other star player and he did that.”
Minson and Hutchins led the university to a great deal of success including a championship in the 1951 NIT Tournament. Minson was named the MVP. The NIT was considered the more prestigious post-season tournament at the time. Hutchins went on to play professional basketball while Minson was drafted into the Navy.
“Mel was too tall to be drafted into the Korean war but I wasn’t so I spent three and a half years in the Navy. Before that time I got into Officer Candidate School and didn’t want to get by on a private’s salary so I was Ensign Minson.”
Minson’s draft rights were owned by the New York Knickerbockers as the #16 selection in 1951 after he returned from military service but he chose a different path.
“When I came back they still wanted me but I didn’t feel good about playing on Sunday,” Minson said. He went on to success in the banking world including a 15-year stint as the vice president of Union Bank of California in Los Angeles from 1979 to 1994. He and his wife Carol have served three missions for the LDS Church in England.
Minson reminisced about his playing days and the run up to the national championship.
“CCNY was a renowned basketball college and they are the only team that’s ever won both tournaments,” he said. They had most of their team back in 1951 and one of our first games when I was a senior was against CCNY and that’s when we knew we could play against some of the best teams. I threw a full-court pass and Mel caught it at the free throw line and as he pushed the ball down he chopped his arms off or we would have beaten the champs from the year before and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
Minson’s time also crossed paths with another basketball great with ties to Star Valley, Vern Gardner, who’s jersey is retired in the rafters of the University of Utah.
“I was a sophomore when he was a senior at Utah and he was one of the greatest,” Minson stated.
He also had experiences in Wyoming as a player at the infamous University Fieldhouse in Laramie.
“We hated to play at Wyoming,” he chuckled. “We called it Hells Half Acre and they were really a tough place to play so when we beat them we felt awfully good about it.”
Criteria to retire a jersey at BYU include: All-American honors, recipient of a major national award, university graduate, a minimum 15-year waiting period and significant accomplishments after graduation. Minson and Hutchins will join Kresimir Cosic and Danny Ainge as the only players to have their numbers retired. Incidentally, Cosic and Minson wore the same #11.
Brigham Young University stated in a press release: “It’s a real privilege to retire the jerseys of Mel Hutchins and Roland Minson, two of the greatest basketball players in BYU history,” said BYU director of athletics Tom Holmoe. “Together they captained the 1951 Cougars to the NIT National Championship, so it’s a fitting tribute that we are able to retire their jerseys in the same ceremony.”
Minson led the Cougars to three consecutive 20-win seasons, back-to-back conference titles in 1950 and 1951 and of course the 1951 NIT National Championship. He finished with 1,407 points which was the school record for 22 years until Cosic broke that mark in 1973. According to information compiled by BYU, Minson also held the single-season points record of 619 until Ainge broke that mark in 1978.
The numbers will be raised to the rafters prior to the game on February 16, with a ceremony scheduled for halftime. For ticket information, call the BYU Ticket Office at 1-800-322-BYU1 (2981).