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Mormon, Anchorage native basketball star to play BYU, talks of how sport increased his faith

By Ryan Comer

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 2 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Teancum Stafford during a University of Alaska Anchorage basketball game.

Sam Wasson, UAA Athletics

With 32 seconds left in the final game of the 2012-13 regular season, and trailing by one point, University of Alaska Anchorage head coach Rusty Osborne drew up a play for one of his leading scorers, Teancum Stafford.

With the clock winding down, Stafford caught the ball, faced up his defender and calmly drilled the go-ahead three.

The team held on to defeat Montana State Billings as the Seawolves captured the No. 3 seed in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.

But for Stafford, or any of his siblings, this would hardly seem like a surprise. The Stafford family has always been associated with basketball, but what some may not know is how this family’s faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints increased because of the sport.

On Nov. 2, Stafford will bring those shooting talents to the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, where 40 members of his family will cheer him on as his Seawolves face Brigham Young University in an exhibition contest.

Basketball has always been a family affair. Teancum followed in his brother Rick’s footsteps by playing at Alaska Anchorage while Teancum’s older sister Behka also played college ball as a member of BYU women’s basketball team from 1992-96.

But it was while Teancum was playing at Snow College that he came to realize his goals and desires in pursuing basketball had become more important than other aspects of his life.

“I was just reading the scriptures one day, and it occurred to me that some of the reasons I played basketball were not righteous,” Teancum said. “When that happened, I was startled. Like, this is really concerning.”

Teancum pondered whether competitive basketball was something he wanted to pursue, and he ultimately decided he needed to step away from the game. However, after Teancum made his decision, an opportunity to join the basketball roster at Alaska Anchorage came up.

After consulting with his father and potential coach, Teancum felt he was in a position to return to playing competitive basketball. After serving a mission for the LDS Church in Southern California from 2008-2010, Teancum played a year at Snow College before transferring to Alaska Anchorage.

“Teancum is a little older than your normal college student,” Osborne said of the 24-year-old. “He’s a little bit older, he’s a little more mature and I think he appreciates honesty.”

In his first season at Alaska Anchorage, Teancum averaged 14.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

“He’s athletic,” Osborne said. “Although we play him at what most people consider the power forward position, we need people who are skilled. Even though he’s only 6’5”, he’s athletic and strong. Offensively, he’s a tough matchup.”

Despite all the family achievements and accolades, basketball has always been a vehicle for faith, according to Teancum’s parents, Jan and Richard Stafford.

“They could prayerfully set goals, they could see how well they played and they could reset goals,” Jan said. “It was much more important that our children loved the gospel, and sports came second.”

According to their father, the Stafford children have learned the principle of hard work and the importance of relying on the Lord.

“I’ve seen all seven of my kids play on occasion better than they can play. I’ve seen them all produce something they did not have the capacity to produce on their own. That’s why (basketball) is a big deal to us,” Richard said. “As you try to do something that is really hard to do, and especially if it’s beyond your capacity, and you get help from above, that’s a skill that’s universal. Has nothing to do with basketball. It shows up in all endeavors in life by all people in life who dream, work as if everything depends on them, and pray as if everything depends on the Lord. It’s a life skill.”

As for former BYU star, Behka believes having basketball in her life has strengthened her faith.

“You get to a point where you can’t do much more on your own,” Behka said. “You have to ask for help. You have to get power you can’t produce. It definitely improved our faith and our reliance on our Father in Heaven. We all believed he helped us do things beyond our own personal power.”

As the time for tipoff draws closer, Behka is excited for the opportunity to see her brother play but also admits to feeling a little conflicted, given her own history at BYU.

“It’s really exciting to me that one of my siblings is playing on the Marriott Center floor,” Behka said. “I have such great memories there. It feels wrong to cheer against my brother or against BYU, so that’s the hard part. I’m just hoping it’s a good game. Both teams play well, and I can cheer for everyone.”

Alaska Anchorage and BYU tip off at 7 p.m. MDT, and the game will be broadcast on BYUtv as well as on the Cougar IMG Sports Network KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM.

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