From Basketball to Battle: West Point’s Perfect Season 1944

Jim Noles

The story of West Point basketball team's perfect season of 1944, and the fate of its Seniors in the 1945 battles of World War II.
Date Published :
November 2018
Publisher :
Illustration :
8 pages of b/w photos
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612005119
Pages : 272
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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In 1943, the West Point basketball team, the Cadets, had only managed a 5-10 record, and for the 1944 season coach Ed Kelleher’s hopes in reversing Army’s fortunes rested on his five starters. They consisted of three seniors – team captain “Big Ed” Christl, John “Three Star” Hennessey, and class president Bobby Faas – and two juniors, Dale Hall and Doug Kenna. At the academy, Kelleher molded his cadets into a new kind of team, and, as the new season opened in January of 1944, Kelleher’s strategy paid handsome dividends. By the end of January, West Point was 6-0; by the end of February, the team boasted a 13-0 record. Of course, during those weeks, it only took a glance at the newspaper headlines to be reminded that there were far bigger contests than intercollegiate basketball afoot in the winter of 1944.

The cadets would not be able to play in the NIT or NCAA national tournaments for a likely national championship. The world was at war, the U.S. Army needed its finest on the front line more than on the court, and the three seniors were soon destined for other battles. Hennessey endured weeks of front-line fighting, battling from the waist-deep snow of Alsatian forests to the bombed-out rubble of German cities. Christl, a fearless forward observer for his field artillery battalion, made it all the way to Austria, where he would lose his life in the final week of the war in Europe. Three months later, Faas was shot down over Japan and forced to bail out over the Pacific Ocean. Coach Kelleher would die overseas on his own special assignment with the Army.

In the years that followed, the Army's basketball team would never again have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament and, in the modern era, few remember West Point's perfect 1944 season. Although West Point's home basketball court is named the Edward C. Christl Arena, and the National Invitational Tournament's trophy is named after his coach, Edward A. Kelleher, too few people fully appreciate why. But after reading Undefeated, they will.

About The Author

Jim Noles graduated from United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1990 with a degree in International History. Commissioned in the Army’s Aviation Branch, Jim served at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he became a pilot-in-command in UH-1H Huey helicopters. Jim is a prolific author and his books include two WWII histories Mighty by Sacrifice: The Destruction of an American Bomber Squadron, August 29, 1944, and Twenty-Three Minutes to Eternity: The Final Voyage of the Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay (University of Alabama Press). In addition to his books, Jim's articles and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Birmingham News.


"This book had me rooting for the young men on the court while also fearing for their lives in battle, a narrative where there are no television time-outs but continuous action, an expertly researched and written interplay between the innocence of college basketball and the corruption of war. If you want the full-range of unscripted drama that only sports and war delivers, for better or for worse, Undefeated is the book for you."

- DR. CARSON MEDLEY, author of Through the Red Door: The Eternal Season of Coach Clink and the Division II Chico State Wildcats

"Hoosiers Meets Band of Brothers"

- Colonel Scott Maytan

"A winning journey by a remarkable group of cadets. Thanks to Jim Noles for shinning a light on a season and a team too few sports fans know about"

- Neely Lohmann, ESPN

"Insightful and moving, Undefeated is a must-read that goes far beyond basketball to show how real heroes touch so many people's lives."

- Edgar Welden author of Time Out!: A Sports Fan's Dream Year

"In Undefeated, Jim Noles tells a story of young men, who form a unique bond in a season of athletic battles, and then engages in a vicious historic war. By turns, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and ltimately triumphant. A wonderful read."

- Carlo DeVito, author of Wellington: The Maras, the Giants and the City of New York and Yogi: The Life and Times of an American Original

"Undefeated offers a remarkable view of the final year of America's Second World War - from basketball courts to foxholes of Western Europe to the skies of the Pacific."

- Winston Groom, author of The Allies: Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and the Unlikely Alliance That Won World War II

"Jim Noles has produced a provocative, arresting, put-you-there account pf a forgotten 1940's Army basketball team that we now realize shouldn't be forgotten. Deeply researched, written with flair and emotion, Noles has achieved something rare: He'll make you care, deeply, about a team you've never heard of- and one you'll never forget."

- Lars Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

"Undefeated does not blur the line between fact and fiction. Actual historical events drive the narrative here, proving that truth really is stranger than fiction while rendering a story that is both delightful and instructional."

- On Point: The Journal of Army History

“The writing combines military and sports history with winning prose and detailed accounts of the battles these young officers fought, risking much more than they ever did on the basketball court. The volume is a fitting tribute to the achievements of these young men.”

- WWII History Magazine

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