BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Coming off one of the best seasons in Western Washington University men’s basketball history, graduating senior point guard Taylor Stafford has signed a professional contract to play for Höttur in the Icelandic Professional League.
Stafford (Chicago, IL/Eastern Arizona) starred for the Vikings in 2016-17, earning Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year honors, and was named the GNAC Tournament MVP. WWU finished with a 25-6 record and advanced to the NCAA Division II West Regional as the No. 3 seed.
“I am very excited to continue my career overseas playing the game I love,” said Stafford, who will graduate this Saturday from WWU with a degree in multidisciplinary studies. “It is kind of surreal and an unbelievable blessing to be able to play professionally. I am looking forward to the opportunity and thankful for all the support I have received at Western.”
In 31 games, Stafford ranked 14th in NCAA II averaging 22.8 points per game, and was also 4th in the GNAC in assists (3.5 per game), 3rd in free throw percentage (86.9%/172-for-198) and 3rd in steals (1.7 per game). He scored 20+ points in 20 of 31 games, and had a league-best eight 30-point performances.
In addition to being named the GNAC Player of the Year, Stafford was a First Team All-America selection by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), becoming the third player in program history to earn first-team All-America honors. He was also a finalist for the Bevo Francis Small College Basketball Player of the Year and was selected to play in the NABC/Reece’s Division II All-Star Game. He was also the recipient of the 2016-17 WWU Athletics Male Athlete of the Year award.
“Taylor is capping off a very successful senior season. We are very proud and excited for him as he is becoming a college graduate and signing his first professional contract,” said WWU head coach Tony Dominguez. “Taylor has worked very hard to put himself in a position to achieve personal dreams and goals, and it is rewarding to see him reach such great achievement.”
Stafford, who spent one season at the University of Evansville and was a junior college All-American at Eastern Arizona, will leave for Iceland in September for training camp and the season will start shortly after that.
Stafford caught up with WWUVikings.com to answer a few questions about his upcoming graduation, the feeling of signing a professional contract and what his time at Western has been like:
WWUVikings.com: What has your time at Western been like, not only on the basketball court, but also in the community?
Taylor Stafford: In the season I sat out as a redshirt, I learned a great work ethic and did a lot of self-evaluation. I taught myself to work harder in the classroom and on the court and set goals for myself in everything I did. Since I wasn’t playing in games, I treated every practice like a game and wanted to win practice player of the week every time.
What’s the feeling like as you are set to graduate this weekend?
TS: Graduating is a special feeling…I am kind of at a loss for words. I am the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, so this is special. I had a lot of people support me to help reach this goal and a lot of people that wanted me to succeed. I am looking forward to wearing that cap and gown on Saturday.
What’s the support system been like for you at Western?
TS: Coach Dominguez and the whole team accepted me right away, and for everything that I am, and pushed me to be better in everything that I do. They embraced me with open arms. It was a special two years in Bellingham and I couldn’t be happier with my choice to move here to continue to play basketball and earn my degree. Bellingham and the WWU campus was a great environment for me to succeed, grow and help me prepare for the next step in my life.
Are you excited to see a new part of the world while also taking the next step in your basketball career?
TS: This will be a really exciting opportunity. Until we played at Simon Fraser last year in Canada, I had never been out of the country. I am just going to continue to work hard, be patient and let the results come to me. It will be fun to see a new part of the world and soak it all up. But I am going there to do a job and be the best basketball player that I can be. I believe in the three P’s – Prayer, Persistence, Patience – and I am going to carry those over with me to Iceland.
Stafford's Career Statistics:
* Statistics from Evansville
SINGLE-GAME HIGHS [all-time ranking]:
Points: 44, at UC San Diego -- 12/12/16
Rebounds: 11, Holy Names -- 11/19/16
Assists: 9, Northwest Nazarene -- 01/19/17
Steals: 6, at Saint Martin's -- 12/01/16
FG made: 15, at UC San Diego -- 12/12/16
FG attempts: 24, at Central Washington -- 02/16/17
3FG made: 7, at UC San Diego -- 12/12/16
3FG attempts: 12, at Northwest Nazarene -- 02/18/17
FT made: 15, Saint Martin's -- 03/03/17
FT attempts: 16, Saint Martin's -- 03/03/17
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