Returned missionaries fare well in tourney

Returned missionaries played key roles for five Western Athletic Conference basketball teams during the regular season and during the WAC tournament.

The tournament was played in Salt Lake City from March 9-12. Hawaii defeated Brigham Young University in the championship game, 73-66.Two BYU returned missionaries, Russell Larson, who served in Argentina, and Kenneth Roberts, who served in Australia, were named to the all-WAC tournament team.

Other returned missionaries received recognition for varied accomplishments.

Hawaii's Jarinn Akana proved "the best man off the bench" with consistently sterling performances for the Rainbows. His three-point pressure toss, in the WAC tournament title game, with only a minute left and BYU down by one point gave the Bows a four-point lead that basically sealed the victory.

After two years at BYU-Hawaii, Akana served a mission in Chile then returned to play for the University of Hawaii. "My mission gave me the big picture of what life is all about and I know it has helped me in my college work, in playing basketball and in being a better person.

"Going to the University of Hawaii is so different from attending a Church school," observed Akana. "I try to be a role model for the young people and I know they are watching me and I know a lot of other people are watching me too.

"At the University of Hawaii I try to be nice to everyone including my basketball teammates, and they all know that I'm a Mormon. It made me proud when the players voted for me to be captain."

Brian Santiago, starting point guard for the Fresno State Bulldogs, is described as a "general on the court."

"We got 19 wins because of Santiago's leadership," Bulldog Coach Gary Colson said at the conclusion of the game that Fresno State lost to BYU. "He's the one that brought us this far."

Santiago enrolled at Fresno State when he returned from his mission to the Dominican Republic. Santiago had a brilliant season with the Bulldogs, topping the league in assists and ranking ninth in the nation. Santiago also topped the WAC in three-point shooting with a .494 percentage.

At the University of Utah, when Coach Rick Majerus has trouble getting through to the Utes' Chinese player, Ma Jian, Ryan Hunt is called upon to translate.

Hunt, who served a mission in Taiwan, speaks Chinese Mandarin fluently and uses his language skills, as well as his basketball skills, to help the team.

He had thought about being a "walk on" at Utah last summer but didn't make a decision until one of the assistant coaches called him on the phone and asked, "Have you thought about walking on at Utah?"

"I'd thought about it," Hunt replied.

"Do you speak Chinese?" the coach asked. When Hunt answered that he did, the caller, who knew that Hunt had played on the Salt Lake Community College basketball team, got excited and told him if he walked on he could work out with the team and perhaps even get to play in some of the games. This appealed to Hunt as he thought it would be fun to be on the team and to use the Chinese language.

Utah has two other returned missionaries on the team this year. Mark Rydalch served a mission in San Antonio, Texas, and Doug Chapman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jeff Connolly, a returned missionary who served in Japan, hurt his knee before the opening of the conference games and was out for the remainder of the season.

"The concept of a mission is great because it gives a young man time in his life to examine himself, to find out who he is and what he can perceive about the times in which he lives," said Majerus. "The mission is a great vehicle for that."

Bryce Morgan, a top cadet who will graduate from the Air Force Academy this spring, said, "The discipline I learned on my mission helped me considerably when I returned to the Academy."

Morgan, who served a mission in Argentina, has been selected by Coach Reggie Minton to be a graduate assistant for one year after his graduation. Minton is particularly high on him.

Few returned missionaries have the opportunity to play major college basketball for two major institutions. Kurt Christensen, who served a mission in France, did it. He was BYU's starting point guard after transferring from the University of Utah.

"As much as I enjoy playing basketball," Christensen explained, "my mission has been the single greatest decision I've made thus far in my life. I know what it did for me personally and I would never trade it for anything in the world."

Other returned missionaries on the BYU basketball team are Mark Durrant, who served in Kentucky; Randy Reid, New Jersey; John Fish, Scotland; and Shawn Lindquist, Brazil.

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