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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Stafford to crossover the ocean

Former Western men’s basketball star Taylor Stafford will be taking his talents to Egilsstaðir, Iceland, to play basketball for Höttur, a team in the Icelandic Professional League this year.

Stafford graduated from Western in the spring of 2017 after playing one season with the team, where he averaged 22.8 points per game en route to a team record of 25-6.

Stafford will transition to another team coming off a hot season, as Höttur finished with a record of 21-3 in the Icelandic Professional League.

Though he has been a part of many wins, the hypercompetitive point guard acknowledged nothing comes easily.

“You always have to do extra to get ahead,” Stafford said. “After practice, I go and shoot every time because that puts me ahead of everybody. I would always do the little things to make me better and to make my team better.”

While Iceland is on Stafford’s horizon, his decision to go international was not made lightly.

“In my family, I’m really the first to do a lot of things. Nobody in my family has signed with an agent, or is about to be a professional basketball player or got a degree. I did that on my own,” Stafford said. “Ultimately, I’m going to make my own decision. You’re either going to ride with me, or you’re not. Whatever decision I make, they’re riding behind me.”

For the 6-foot-1-inch point guard, making his own decisions is something he is accustomed to.

“Throughout my whole life, even when me and my family was going through our certain struggles, things of that nature, seeing things around me, negative things, I always knew I would be good,” Stafford said. “I always knew I wouldn’t be in the people’s shoes around me, selling drugs and gangbanging and things of that nature. I always knew there’d be something in life, and now it’s here.”

Starting Sept. 5, Stafford will have the opportunity to turn his dream into a profession.

“I know what’s meant to be will be, but this year I’m just looking to get better and hopefully have more opportunities,” Stafford said. “I’m in the right position right now, and I either need to take advantage of it or let it slip away.”

Stafford’s contract with Höttur is for one year, but looking back at his one season with Western, it’s apparent the young point guard can make the most of any opportunity.

The first-team, All-American’s efforts garnered heavy attention throughout the 2016-17 season, as he was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year and GNAC Tournament MVP. He was also selected to play in the Reese’s Division II College All-Star Game.

While Stafford led Western in points per game, steals per game and assists per game, he also learned to lead in less obvious ways, assistant head coach David Dunham said.

“He definitely led by action, but he also was a vocal leader,” Dunham said. “He just wasn’t the vocal leader where he needed to be seen. He didn’t need the attention. Taylor just wanted to win.”

Whether it was scoring 44 points on the road against University of California San Diego, or robbing Saint Martin’s University with six steals in a game, Stafford often found a way to help Western win.

Stafford said he liked having the ball in his hands and being the facilitator of the offense, as it enabled him to be a direct leader on the court.

“I like not having the ball too, because when you got the ball, the defense can lock onto you. But if I’m on the wing, or if I’m cutting, nobody will know where I’m at but my defender, so it’s one on one,” Stafford said.

Former teammate and current junior Trevor Jasinsky said Stafford’s leadership style was always positive and helped to pick up his teammates’ spirits during low moments.

“I think a lot of people, including myself, thrive off of that kind of stuff. It feeds you confidence, and it makes you wanna play better and play harder,” Jasinsky said. “It gives you a better mentality and I think he did a really good of passing that along.”

Stafford, who Jasinsky referred to as a leader and “floor general,” didn’t only support his teammates on the court.

“I’ve always been a gym rat myself, and every time I walked into the gym [and]Taylor was in there too,” Jasinsky said. “I think that’s something that you look for [in] your leaders. It’s just kind of lead by example.”

After his collegiate career ended, Stafford has stayed active. He is playing with the Bellingham Slam, a minor league team, this summer in the Seattle Pro-Am tournament hosted by NBA player Jamal Crawford. After the tournament, Stafford will head to Iceland in September to continue his playing career.

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