Mormons in the ACC: Tar Heel guard plans to serve mission, while former Duke center reflects on career
Basketball player at high-profile university stays firm on plans for serving LDS mission
The telephone call that Stilman White dreamed of came on the afternoon of March 29, 2011. He was driving home from a workout. The senior guard from Wilmington, N.C., was surprised to hear the voice of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. White suddenly sat forward in the driver's seat and tightened his grip on the wheel.
"It was nerve-racking. When his name pops up, you kind of clear your throat," White said in a phone interview. "He said he had a scholarship open for me if I wanted to come to Chapel Hill. I committed. I sped home and told my mom the good news. I was pretty excited. I didn't get much sleep that night."
It was an offer the Mormon hoopster couldn't refuse, especially considering the legendary coach was supportive of his plan to serve an LDS mission. White had offers from three other schools and was interested in playing for a fourth program, but when Williams called with a Tar Heel scholarship, White's path became clear.
"A lot of schools would come watch me play, then they would hear about the mission and I wouldn't hear from them again. It was a little frustrating," White said. "But it all ended up working out."
Midway through this freshman year, the 6-foot, 160-pound guard is seeing about four minutes a game, but has played in front of President Barack Obama on an aircraft carrier; he has soaked up the lore of North Carolina basketball; and he has experienced life as one of the only Latter-day Saint student-athletes in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He plans to submit his mission papers after the season.
Mormon Blue Devil
White isn't the first Mormon to play basketball in the ACC. More than 17 years ago, Matt Christensen, a 6-foot-10 center from Massachusetts, signed with coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and played the 1995-96 season before serving an LDS mission in Frankfurt, Germany. He returned to Durham, N.C., in 1999 and was a member of the Blue Devils' 2001 national championship team. Christensen finished his career in 2002, almost seven years after he arrived.
Christensen, now a businessman with a family of five, can relate somewhat to what White is experiencing.
"I think I was the first LDS player at Duke. I didn't know of any other LDS guys on other teams during the time I was playing in the ACC," Christensen said.
His desire to serve a mission played a big role in the recruiting process, which started in seventh grade when the University of Tulsa sent him a letter. Over the next five years, Division I programs across the country competed for Christensen's talent. Each recruiter was told upfront about the mission. "If that is a problem for you, then don't recruit me," he told them. Some went away, while others argued he was shaving years off his NBA career. One recruiter was so bold as to say — with his father, Clayton, sitting in the room — Matt really didn't want to go on a mission, "you're just saying that to make your parents happy."
But Christensen really did want to serve a mission. He narrowed the list to three schools by his senior year: Duke, BYU and Stanford. But the decision was difficult. Ultimately, he went with Duke for a number of reasons.
First, the Durham campus felt like home and reminded him of Oxford University (his father studied at Oxford and it was a special place for the family).
Second, the Duke coaching staff had no problem with his mission and had done its LDS homework. Not only did Coach "K" know his Mormon terminology, but assistant Mike Brey attended sacrament meeting with the family. The staff also arranged visits with the local Latter-day Saint leaders.
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