Western men’s basketball senior captain and guard Taylor Stafford was going to be special when he was in the third or fourth grade, his grandma Flora Woodfork said.
“Taylor played his coach and won, and his dad was standing on the sideline laughing, [but] when it came his time to play, Taylor beat him too,” Woodfork said.
Stafford recently added to his growing collection of accolades. He was announced as a first-team All-American for Division II basketball, as well as being selected to the first team for the Reese’s DII All-Star Game.
“I was very humbled, and when I first heard it, I was just simply thanking God because I know He’s the reason for all of this,” Stafford said.
Western’s head coach Tony Dominguez said Stafford has worked hard for the award.
“He’s a tremendous young man who worked very hard to be excellent, and I’m excited [for him], he’s achieved a lot,” Dominguez said.
Stafford didn’t start with basketball, though. His first sport as a child was gymnastics, Woodfork said. Stafford said though he didn’t take basketball seriously until his junior year of high school, he always had the love for it.
Stafford grew up on the South Side, where basketball was an escape from the violence around him.
“He’s a tremendous young man who worked very hard to be excellent, and I’m excited [for him], he’s achieved a lot.”
Tony Dominguez, head coach
“[Playing basketball] became therapeutic for me at a young age,” Stafford said. “Living in an impoverished environment, it took me and my family away from the shootings and killings.”
However, Stafford nearly quit basketball his sophomore year of high school, before his coach convinced him to stay on the team.
“[He] saw great things in me I never saw in myself,” Stafford said. “I’m not sure what made me want to focus on basketball, it just was a gut feeling to take it serious.”
From a young age, Woodfork, Stafford’s legal guardian, said she tried to instill certain values in him, most importantly to go to school. That paid off, as Stafford was also named to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference All-Academic team. Stafford’s college career ended in the first round of the NCAA tournament, in a game he called bittersweet.
“My belief and my faith keeps me strong. What was meant to be will be, so I was very accepting of everything,” Stafford said. “I was just enjoying it. It was bittersweet because I’m going to miss the experiences with my teammates, but I don’t let wins and losses define me as a person.”
After the loss to Chico State though, Stafford had the opportunity to start in the DII All-Star game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
“To go into it, I was like, ‘I ain’t talking to nobody, I’m going to keep to myself, which is normally how I am,’” Stafford said. “But the people, the players and organizers were so great. It was fun. Ultimately, it was a good experience,” Stafford said.
Even though he’s traveling across the country to play hoop, Stafford said a lot of his motivation still comes from his roots.
“Mainly, I just want to be a role model for my brothers and sisters and show them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’” Stafford said. “With where we grew up, the situations [there], I just wanted to provide a better way for my family, and I knew through basketball and through school I could do that.”
Looking forward, Stafford might be taking his career to the next level. Stafford recently signed with an agent to explore opportunities to play professionally, either in the NBA or abroad, something he described as surreal.
However, Stafford isn’t worrying about where he’s going or planning ahead too much.
“That’s my agent’s job,” he said with a smile.
Dominguez believes Stafford can make a living of this.
“I think he’s as good as anybody and has NBA potential,” Dominguez said.
Stafford was concerned at first, Woodfork said, about leaving her alone if he was to go overseas to play in international basketball leagues. However, she encouraged him to pursue it, saying if he wants it to be a career, it’s what he has to do.
For now though, Stafford is working on finishing his degree. He graduates this spring and then, he said, the grind is back on.
That grind is what took the South Side kid from schooling his dad in front of his classmates, to making just about every All-American list across the country and having too many awards to keep his grandma up-to-date on.