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Utah basketball to honor Wat Misaka with jersey retirement

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Wataru “Wat” Misaka receives an honorary doctorate in humane letters during the University of Utah’s commencement exercises at the Huntsman Center Friday, May 4, 2012.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former University of Utah basketball player Wataru “Wat” Misaka, who played for the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championship teams, will have his jersey retired and immortalized in the rafters of the Jon M. Huntsman Center next year.

Utah athletics director Mark Harlan made the announcement Thursday morning in conjunction with a resolution offered in the Utah Legislature.

“Wat Misaka’s legacy is that of a champion,” Harlan said. “He won championships as a student and was a champion in this country, whose dignity shined through as a trailblazer and a pioneer. Wat’s achievements are extraordinary, and the profound impact he made leaves a legacy of great pride for his family, for the state of Utah and all who benefited from the opportunities he created.”

Misaka, who grew up in Ogden as the son of Japanese immigrants, passed away in November 2019 at age 95.

While helping the Utah basketball program to those national championships, Misaka broke barriers in becoming the first nonwhite player in the Basketball Association of America (predecessor of the NBA) in 1947.

The resolution in the Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, noted Misaka’s significant contributions as a citizen of Utah and his considerable historical achievements.

Earlier this month, a banner honoring longtime Utah athletics director Chris Hill was added to the retired jerseys at the Huntsman Center. Other retired jerseys include those of Arnie Ferrin, Vern Gardner, Billy McGill, Danny Vranes, Keith Van Horn, Andre Miller, Andrew Bogut as well as a banner honoring coach Rick Majerus.