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

UNDEFEATED                                          JIM NOLES

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, and the U.S. Army needed its finest on the front line more than on the court. Just after their incredible basketball battles ended, the three seniors were about to enter other battles. Hennessey endured months 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 again 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.


This is a story about basketball first. At least the first few chapters deal with the West Point teams leading up to the one that went undefeated. The author takes you through the teams prior to this undefeated season and the players, men and the coaches. Also in 1943, the Cadets had a record of 5-10 so the team or the Point made a change at the head coach with Ed Kelleher. He was a native New Yorker born in New York City and then eventually becoming the head basketball coach for St. Johns and then for Fordham. He would eventually be hired for the Army job and only be there for one year. You must remember that the war was going on and the men going through the Academy were going for three years, not four. So now he had to put together a team when he arrived. The author takes you through the players and where they lived and what they did before entering the Point, and also if they played another sport other than basketball. Dale Hall one of his players also played football. The author also takes you through the season and the games. What you really get a look into is the three men that went off to battle but did not come home. Jack Hennessey, Ed Christl, and Bob Fass. It should also be noted that the coach was there for two years and only lost one game. He would go to Europe as a civilian in 45 and was killed also. So really four men died. The book really though goes into the three men who graduated and went on to serve and give the ultimate sacrifice. So lastly my take one being a son of a WWII vet with the 82 airborne, I was very grateful he made it home. Two if anyone is in the area you should take a tour of West Point because it is truly a sight to behold and words do not give it justice. Lastly, as a sports fan and history buff, I found this book to be perfect for anyone looking for a story that connects both and that you have never heard about. The author is also giving a portion of the proceeds to the wounded warrior fund. I received this book from Netgalley.com I gave it 5 Stars. Follow us atwww.1rad-readerreviews.com

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