Senior Guard Taylor Stafford might’ve only had one season of eligibility for the Vikings, but that is all the time he needed to be named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year.
After scoring 64 points in two games, Stafford was named Most Valuable Player in the GNAC Tournament.
Stafford’s award has been in the making since the summer between his sophomore and junior year of high school, when one of his coaches convinced him not to quit playing basketball.
“That was one of the highest moments of the season, not just because I scored 44 [points,] but because my teammates were looking for me. That showed me this is an unselfish group of guys.”
“I told myself from 10th grade on I would take this game serious, that summer I put so much into it,” Stafford said.
Stafford, a transfer from the University of Evansville, is known by his teammates as a player who arrives at the gym before anyone else and is still there after everyone has left.
Stafford’s accomplishments come during a season that saw the Vikings go 23-5 and win the GNAC Tournament Saturday, March 4 against Western Oregon University, 71-69.
“He just has a strong desire to be successful. He works extremely hard, both in the classroom and on the court,” head coach Tony Dominguez said. “He has a high talent level for sure.”
Stafford was also named to the GNAC All-Academic Team, in addition to his accomplishments on the court.
Stafford missed scoring double digits in only one game for Western. One of Stafford’s highlights included a 44-point performance on the road against the University of San Diego on Dec. 12, 2016.
“That was one of the highest moments of the season, not just because I scored 44 [points,] but because my teammates were looking for me,” Stafford said. “That showed me this is an unselfish group of guys.”
The USD game was one of six in which Stafford scored 30 points or more.
Junior forward, Deandre Dickson, said Stafford is at his best late in games.
“All the shots he makes late in games to really close games out, he’s a really good closer,” Dickson said.
In a brief but impactful career in Bellingham, Stafford used his ineligibility in the beginning of his career to contribute when the time came.
“My work started when I first got here. When I sat out my redshirt season, I acted like I was in season,” Stafford said. “I was in the mix, redshirts usually sit on the outside looking in.”
Stafford is ranked in the top 25 in Division II with 22.1 points per game and ranked second the GNAC in free throw percentage, making 88.1 percent of his free throws.
“Taylor is a great kid,” Dominguez said. “Taylor wanted to come to a family environment; he wanted to come to a winning program, a winning team. With his work ethic and his talent, I’m just excited for him.”