"Montone was on the football team and had played some high school basketball. Raese took him to New York because he wanted someone with height to go in for a couple of minutes when a player needed to rest."
Practicing at the Field House with only three substitutes, Coach Raese had a tough time putting an opposing team on the floor for scrimmage, Hugh Hicks said. "The coach and I would play to make it five."
Besides Shorty Hicks, other starters were Rudy Baric, the captain; Lou Kalmar, Dick Kesling and Floyd "Scotty" Hamilton. Walter "Lefty" Rollins, Don Raese (nephew of the coach) and George Ricky backed them up.
Financial aid back then went to the football team. None of the basketball players had scholarships. They played because they wanted to.
According to their coach, that's why they won the tournament. "Those boys had the heart," Dyke Raese told a writer at the time. "Every boy on the team played his heart out. Yes, sir. That's what won it -- heart."
With only one 6-foot-3 player, they were a small bunch by today's standards. They made it up in grit.
"Our boys just out-gutted all of them," said then-WVU Athletic Director Roy Hawley. "I've never seen a team put forth such great effort against such great odds."
Meet the players
Scotty Hamilton, a junior guard from Grafton, was WVU's first basketball All-American. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he was consistently referred to as "roly-poly." Raese called him "the best fast-break middleman I'd ever seen."
"Scotty was a good friend of mine," Hicks said. "After basketball practice, we would go upstairs to the wrestling mats and wrestle for 15 or 20 minutes.
"He was a heavy guy. During the games, he would get worn out because he was out of shape. He'd call a time out, and I would go out and take him a bucket of water and a towel."
Baric, a center from Brentwood, led the team in scoring. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he was the tallest on the team. Raese called him "a fabulous pivot man."
"When Coach Raese entered the military in 1943, Baric filled in as coach," Hicks said. "He was a big fellow and very quiet. There was no pizzazz about him. But he won many a game on his ability to rebound the ball."
Kesling, a forward from Clarksburg, was a wiry 165 pounds and could leap like nobody's business. He was a prime target for Hamilton under the basket.
"He was our high point man and the quietest one," Hicks said. "You never knew he was around except to watch him play basketball."
Kalmar, an Osage native, was a 5-11 guard who excelled in rebounding and defense. "He was the same way -- quiet as a mouse, but a great athlete," Hicks said. "He ended up in the banking business in North Carolina."
WVU took a 16-4 record to the tournament. At 24-2, Long Island was considered the best team in the nation. Coached by Grafton native Clair Bee, Long Island had won NIT championships in 1939 and 1941.
"When WVU got invited to the NIT as the eighth team, they had the least possible chance to win," Hicks said.
But that was on paper.
At halftime, Long Island had the Mountaineers by seven points. Hicks wasn't worried. "You didn't know these guys," he said. "They weren't going to give up."
With 10 minutes left and down by nine, WVU stormed to a tie at the buzzer. In overtime, Kesling hit for seven straight points. Walter Rollins scored four and Hicks scored two. Mighty Long Island had fallen. A writer for the New York Herald Tribune dubbed it "the upset to end all upsets."
Six nights later, the Mounties surprised Toledo (22-3) to earn a shot at the title.
In the final game, after Hicks hit the free throw that gave WVU the lead, Western Kentucky still had a chance. But Baric intercepted a pass and got the ball to Hamilton.
Hamilton "put on a dribbling exhibition," according to newspaper accounts, then drew a foul as the game ended. "West Virginians there went ecstatically crazy."
Beyond the glory
The following day, Hicks cheered as his brother rode by on the back of a convertible during a big parade along High Street in Morgantown. "It was really loud," he said. "Everybody was yelling and calling out to the players."
In a telegram delivered to Coach Raese the previous evening, Gov. Neely said: "In my opinion, no other athletic team in the history of the nation ever in a similar length of time earned greater renown for its alma mater than yours has earned for West Virginia in the series of thrilling battles gloriously completed in Madison Square Garden tonight.
"That success as surpassing as that which you now enjoy may attend all of you to the end of your days is my sincere hope and earnest prayer."
Sadly, with America's entry into World War II on the horizon, several players didn't live longer than a couple of years beyond their glorious victory.
Two years after his game-winning foul shot, Shorty Hicks died in action in France as a lieutenant in Gen. George Patton's Third Army. A member of the ROTC at WVU for four years, he was serving as an instructor at Fort Benning, Ga., when he volunteered for combat.
"He didn't have to go," his brother said quietly.
George Rickey died fighting in North Africa. Don Raese, an Air Force pilot, was killed on a training mission shortly after the war.
Of the others, Kesling retired as a personnel director for Owens-Illinois in Fairmont. Hamilton was a high school and college coach and served as athletic director at Marietta College. Rollins was a funeral director in his hometown, Ceredo-Kenova.
Wounded in France, Baric ended up coaching and teaching in New Jersey. Kalmar, a Navy officer, earned a Silver Star for bravery during the Normandy invasion. He went on to an executive position in an Atlanta-based canning company. The last surviving member of the 1942 team, he died in 2002.
A week after the championship game, Dyke Raese reported for naval duty and worked with the Navy basketball program. Father of Morgantown businessman and gubernatorial candidate John Raese, he joined Greer Industries, a steel, limestone and media conglomerate started by his wife's family. He died in 2000, at 91.
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.