Even with March Madness upon us, you might not realize there have been many Mormons to make college basketball history. Here are are seven times Mormon made their mark on March Madness.
In the early days, only eight teams participated in the college basketball tournament, but that doesn’t cheapen the success of player, Arnie Ferrin. He was named Most Outstanding Player in the league in 1944 when his team, the University of Utah, beat Dartmouth 42-40 in the March Madness championship. He later played for the Minneapolis Lakers and served as a mission president in Michigan.
With a half-court buzzer beater during triple overtime, Vernon Hatton led his team to victory over Temple University in the 1958 tournament. He was All-American his senior year and the 9th pick in the NBA draft. Hatton played for the Philadelphia Warriors after college and had a successful career.
No one expected the North Carolina State University team to make it far in the March Madness tournament. But Thurl Bailey lead his team to the 6th seed with his scoring and rebounding. They beat Pepperdine, UNLV, Utah, Virginia, and Georgia to compete in the championship game in a Cinderella run. At the time Bailey was not a Mormon but while playing for the Utah Jazz, Bailey came in contact with members of the Church, including his wife who was a Mormon. He says that the example of the Mormons he met made him want to learn more and as he investigated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he felt that it was true and decided to join.
Losing 49-50 with only seven seconds left in a March Madness game against Notre Dame, Danny Ainge drove the ball past all five Notre Dame players and across the entire court to win the game with a layup as the buzzer rang out. That shot won them the game and lead BYU to it’s only Elite 8 spot. Ainge won the National Player of the Year award his senior season and is considered one of the best players in basketball history.
Shawn Bradley is one of the tallest basketball players of all time. At 7’6”, it’s hard to stop him, but he is incredible at stopping other players. During his freshman year playing for Brigham Young University, Bradley set the record for blocks with 177 that season. In fact, in the first March Madness game that year, he made a total of 10 blocks, leading the Cougars to victory against Virginia. He later retired from college basketball to serve a mission in Australia, returning instead to the NBA.
Jimmer was one of the best scorers in all College Basketball history. In fact, President Obama even said, “[Jimmer Fredette is the] best scorer obviously in the country.” He led the Brigham Young University Cougars to their first spot in the Sweet Sixteen since 1981 by scoring 66 points in wins over Gonzaga and Wofford.
Biggest Comeback in March Madness History
Fans began leaving the game early when the Brigham Young University Cougars were suffering 25 points behind the Iona Gaels. But the Cougars fought hard for the 14th seed and were able to beat the Gaels 78-72. BYU coach, Dave Rose, “It was tough for us early. But our guys fought. We fought hard. We fought all game long.”