SALT LAKE CITY — Wataru “Wat” Misaka, who was part of the Utah men’s basketball team’s improbable 1944 NCAA men’s basketball title and another NIT title in 1947 before breaking a color barrier entering a professional career, died Wednesday, University of Utah officials said Thursday. He was 95.
A cause of death was not immediately released, but the university said Misaka died in Salt Lake City.
"We are saddened to learn of the passing of Wat Misaka. He was a part of the Utah teams that won national championships in the 1940s, but Wat was bigger than the game of basketball, blazing trails into places nobody of his descent had gone before," Utah Athletics Director Mark Harlan said in a statement. "He was such a kind and thoughtful man and will be missed by so many. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and Utah fans, who all mourn his passing."
Misaka was born in Ogden on Dec. 21, 1923. He attended Ogden High School and helped Weber College (now Weber State) reach the Intermountain Collegiate Athletics Conference championships in 1942 and 1943. While at Ogden High, he received the nickname "Kilowatt," according to a biography from Weber State.
He then played a key role on the “Blitz Kids” men’s basketball team, which won the 1944 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The team also defeated the St. John’s in the Red Cross Benefit, which pitted the NCAA and NIT tournament winners that year.
After serving in the military during World War II, Misaka returned to school and helped the Utes win the 1947 NIT title.
After his playing career with the Runnin’ Utes, Misaka became the first non-Caucasian player drafted in what is now the NBA when the New York Knicks selected him. He played three games with the Knicks before his career ended and Misaka returned to Utah to work as an engineer.
Misaka was inducted in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2011, he was inducted into the University of Utah’s Crimson Club Hall of Fame and the Weber State Athletics Hall of Fame. He also received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters by the University of Utah. in 2012.
In 2018, Ogden City honored Misaka by naming a public basketball court "Kilowatt Court" at Liberty Park within the city.
Misaki is preceded in death by his wife, Katie, who died in 2017. The two were married in 1952 and had two children, according to her obituary.
Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately announced Thursday.