Honored Jersey Ceremony for Wat Misaka Set for January 22nd
SALT LAKE CITY – After much delay due to COVID-19, the University of Utah Athletics Department has officially set a date for Wataru "Wat" Misaka's honored jersey ceremony and see it immortalized in the rafters of the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Saturday, Jan. 22, when the Runnin' Utes take on the Trojans of Southern California.
"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."
The announcement of Misaka's jersey honoring was made after a resolution to honor Misaka was introduced by Senator Jani Iwamoto on Feb. 20, 2020. The resolution made note of Misaka's significant contributions as a citizen of Utah and his considerable historical achievements.
"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."
Misaka, who helped lead the Utah basketball program to national championships in 1944 and '47, broke barriers when he became the first non-Caucasian player in the Basketball Association of America (predecessor to the NBA) in 1947.
Known as the Jackie Robinson of basketball, Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the University of Utah's Crimson Club Hall of Fame in 2011. Misaka was the point guard for Utah's 1944 NCAA tournament championship team and the 1947 NIT championship team. In between his two seasons playing for Utah he was drafted into the military and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
In his first season with the Utes, the tenacious defender helped guide Utah to the 1944 National Championship and a 22-4 overall record. After losing in the more prestigious National Invitational Tournament to Kentucky, the Utes were asked to take the place of Arkansas in the eight-team NCAA Tournament. After taking down Missouri 45-35 and Iowa State 40-31, where Misaka scored five points and nine points, respectively, Utah returned to New York City. The 5-7 guard had won over New Yorkers in the previous week during the NIT with his style of play, and in the NCAA Championship game he scored four points as Utah defeated Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime at Madison Square Garden.
After returning from his service during WWII, Misaka helped lead the Utes to the 1947 NIT title with a 49-45 victory over Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats. That team wound up 19-5 overall at season's end and finished second in the Skyline Conference with a 10-2 mark.
Following his playing career at Utah, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks in 1947. The first player of Japanese descent to play in the NBA, known then as the Basketball Association of America, Misaka took part in three games during the 1947-48 season and scored seven points.
Misaka returned to Utah and used his bachelor's degree from the U to begin a career as an electrical engineer. He and his wife Kate had two children, daughter Nancy Umemura and son Hank Misaka, and grandchildren Kennah Misaka, Erin Misaka, and Joel Umemura.
In August of 2018, his hometown of Ogden, Utah, honored Misaka with the "Kilowatt Court" at Liberty Park. He also was the Terasaki Budokan's guest of honor in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo two months earlier. In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned Misaka 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."
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