Stanford player says LDS mission helped him with basketball

Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Sonoma State's Dominic Powell, left, fights for a loose ball against Stanford's Elliott Bullock during the second half of a NCAA college basketball game in Stanford, Calif., Friday, Nov. 6, 2009.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

Listed at 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, Elliott Bullock is one of the biggest players on the Stanford University men's basketball roster.

Yet the redshirt junior from Salt Lake City hasn't played a minute for the Cardinal in four years.

Bullock played two years at Stanford before leaving to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He hasn't played at all in the two seasons since coming back, but he wouldn't trade his mission experience for anything. The trials, experiences and lessons learned have blessed his life in multiple ways, he said.

"I consider it to be the most valuable two years I have spent in my life," Bullock said in a phone interview from Tucson, Ariz., where his team was preparing to play Pac-12 Conference foe Arizona. "I would highly recommend it for anyone."

Bullock is one of at least 70 LDS returned missionaries playing at four-year universities this year (see the list).

After lettering for four years at Olympus High School in Salt Lake City, Bullock considered opportunities to play at Portland, Brown, Lafayette, Penn and Princeton, but he really wanted to play at Stanford. He produced a highlight film and sent it to the coaching staff in Palo Alto, Calif., where he was allowed to walk on the team.

As a freshman in 2008-09, Bullock played in 15 games. His greatest contribution came when he grabbed four rebounds and scored three points in a victory over Colorado.

It was good enough to earn a scholarship. As a sophomore the following year, he came off the bench in 22 games and twice had games with five rebounds. But it wasn't enough to keep his scholarship.

"Depending on how I played that year, we would discuss further options (regarding a scholarship). I didn't play very well," Bullock said. "I was going to leave on my mission after my freshman year, but the timing was right to leave after my sophomore year."

Following the 2009-10 season, Bullock was called to the Texas Houston South Mission, where he spoke Spanish. It was a time of great personal growth and maturity, Bullock said.

His biggest challenge was dealing with anxiety and depression, he said.

"They were consistent throughout my life but were magnified within the mission, being so far away from home and dealing with rejection every day," said Bullock, who referenced Ether 12:27, a scripture verse in the Book of Mormon that talks about turning weaknesses into strengths. "It was a real problem and during that time I was able to diagnose it and treat it to some extent. I was able to strengthen my testimony through that trial, and I'm very grateful to the Lord for helping me through that."

Bullock's mission experience also taught him principles of leadership and service.

"Christ was the greatest but he came to serve," Bullock said. "Whether you are the star or the last guy off the bench, you can contribute. Your job is to serve others in the capacity that you have."

He also learned it's important to cultivate personal relationships with those you work with.

"I felt a lot more valued when my leaders in the mission knew me, what I was going through and how to help me personally," Bullock said. "I think the same holds true in basketball. A lot of times we know the fundamentals, the techniques. They've been preached from Junior Jazz on up. But a lot of times it's helping someone to learn to focus their mind or energy or tap into what knowledge they already have in order to be more consistent in doing those things."

His mission also taught Bullock to be resilient. Regardless of how they feel, missionaries have to get out and talk to people.

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