New book highlights the 1951 NIT champions

What was once a final project for a communications class ended up making one BYU alumnus a published author.

“It started off as a news writing final project, and just went from there,” said Rocky Steele, a grad student at Gonzaga Law School. ” I kept plugging away and by the end of the semester I thought to myself, this needs to be a book.”

Steele’s book, the “Forgotten Champions,” highlights the 1951 BYU basketball team and its road to the NIT national championship.

“This team was definitely national champions,” Steele said. “It is a story worth telling. All five starters were drafted into the NBA, with three of those five becoming All-Americans.”

Steele’s book discusses not only the caliber of players on the court, but off the court as well.

The late Elder Loren C. Dunn is well known around the world as an LDS General Authority, but many didn’t know he was also passionate about sports, including basketball. Although he didn’t start, Elder Dunn was a member of the 1951  national championship basketball team.

Harold Christensen, a sophomore starter on the team, was later drafted to what is now the LA Lakers. He also served as the Fresno California Mission President from 1981-1984.

The 1951 National Champions had many supporters, from students to leaders of the LDS Church. As the team geared up for the final NIT game, they received a telegraph which read the following:

“Coach Stan Watts and the Brigham Young University Basketball team: From the top of the Rockies I send my love and blessing. Many thousands share my pride in your record. I have faith in your abilities. play hard, play fair, and play to win. God bless you. — President George Albert Smith.”

The 1951 team was also the first of BYU to travel internationally for a sporting event. The teams traveled to Brazil, where they completed a three week basketball and church service tour. While in Brazil the team wore specially designed uniforms with the words “Mormons” across the front.  During the tour the team played the city of Sau Paulo, a team comprised of Brazilian Olympians, and won.

LaDell Andersen, a former BYU basketball coach, has said the 1951 BYU basketball team was arguably the best team in school history. Andersen knew basketball and talent. Later in his career he led the men’s basketball team to be the second-ranked team in the nation.

The book highlights the team’s experience, and gives an in-depth look at the 1951 National Champions. Many have forgotten that the BYU basketball program was getting national attention way before Jimmermania.

The book is now available in the Bookstore, at Deseret Book and Amazon.com

 

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