Mike Preece, another seminary teacher, recalled dealing with a disruptive student who had behavioral problems. Without being asked, Mika sat next to the student to encourage better behavior. One day, the young man said he didn’t want to take part in a class activity. Preece asked Mika to be his partner.
“The kid yells out, ‘The giant’s not mine!’ Eric thought that was hilarious. He was called ‘the giant’ multiple times,” Preece said. “These guys were willing to participate, to lift and to strengthen others, but at the same time they were teenagers who had fun and joked around.”
Mika is now a starting freshman on the BYU basketball team, and his seminary teachers have continued to stay in touch with him.
“Our teachers were awesome. They had a good influence,” Mika said. “Seminary really helped me.”
For Haws, who is a senior at Lone Peak this year and recently broke the school’s single-game scoring record with 40 points, seminary provides a much-needed escape from the stress of school, basketball and life. He has also appreciated bonding with his brothers from the team in a spiritual environment. On a few occasions, they visited the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple before school.
“It’s special that we can have so much fun, but when it’s time to get serious, we can all help build each other’s testimonies and grow together,” Haws said. “It’s definitely a cool experience when your guys on the court are your boys off the floor as well.”
Before arriving in the LDS Texas Fort Worth Mission, Toolson wasn’t into books and reading. Spending Monday nights at "family home evening" was annoying.
How times have changed.
During a recent morning study session in a one-bedroom apartment, the now 19-year-old full-time missionary picked up “Jesus the Christ,” one of a handful of books outside of scripture that missionaries are permitted to bring when they leave home. The book was published 99 years ago and has 768 pages with 1,596 footnotes, as well as many references to works published more than 135 years ago.
“I never liked to read," Elder Toolson said in an interview. "Now I want to read ‘Jesus the Christ.’ ... Missions get you reading and studying."
He has also changed his mind about spending time with his family.
“I was always complaining Monday nights about my parents keeping me in," Toolson said. "I used to see that as a pain and annoying. You start to realize how important your family is when you’re away from them. I’d love to have family night with my family now, especially with all the gospel-related stuff I’ve learned on my mission.”
Toolson is one of four Lone Peak players from last year's team currently serving a full-time Mormon mission. Emery is in the Germany Frankfurt Mission, Braden Miles is in the Washington D.C. South Mission and Shumway is in the Texas McAllen Mission. Mika and Haws are both in the process of submitting their mission paperwork and expect to receive assignments soon. Tanner Payne is also serving a mission at the Bishops' Storehouse in Salt Lake City.
Emery is currently working in Darmstadt. The former Deseret News Mr. Basketball recipient has been in the mission field for about nine months, and despite some nagging problems with ingrown toenails, he’s having the time of his life.
“My family and the gospel have taught me it’s not all about ‘me,’ but it’s about loving others,” Emery said in an email to the Deseret News from Germany. “And when we focus on others, that’s where we find our true selves. That’s when I really am happy.”
In a recent letter home posted on his missionary blog, Emery wrote, “I had an awesome week. It has been some of the best times in my life. I love the mission so much. If I had to tell anyone who was thinking about it, I would tell them, ‘GO!’ It’s the best experience you could ever experience. It’s harder than I expected but I have never felt so rewarded in my life. I have finally found what’s important in life. Sports are still in my life for sure, but the gospel is the No. 1 thing in my life.”
Contributing: Tad Walch reporting from Fort Worth, Texas
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