LDS basketball players are now on five of the 10 teams in the WAC

As NCAA basketball "March Madness" sweeps the nation, it's notable that Church members - including a good number of returned missionaries - are now playing on more collegiate teams than ever before.

Not surprisingly, a significant number of these Church members play for schools in the West.The recent Western Athletic Conference tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., showed five of the 10 league teams with LDS players on their rosters: BYU, University of Utah, San Diego State, University of Texas-El Paso and Colorado State University.

Participating in the WAC tournament were Brigham Young University with 11 LDS players, nine of whom are returned missionaries (the two BYU athletes who haven't served missions are both freshmen); University of Utah with six LDS players, all of whom are returned missionaries; San Diego State, three, one a returned missionary; UTEP, one, a returned missionary; and Colorado State, one.

Here are the names of these players, their schools and where they served their missions:

BYU - Lance Archibald, Potomac, Md., mission, Finland; Grant Berges, Phoenixville, Pa., mission, France; Jeff Campbell, Athens, Ala., mission, Germany; Todd Christensen, Salt Lake City; Nathan Cooper, Provo, Utah; Brian Hofheins, Pleasant Grove, Utah, mission, Florida; Matt Lohner, Provo, Utah, mission, Connecticut; Randy Reid, Spanish Fork, Utah, mission, New Jersey; Ken Roberts, Riverton, Utah, mission, Australia; Bryon Ruffner, Provo, Utah, mission, Chile; Justin Weidauer, Salt Lake City, mission, Germany.

University of Utah - Doug Chapman, Murray, Utah, mission, Wisconsin; Doug Meacham, American Fork, Utah, mission, Seattle Vietnamese; Mark Rydalch, Oakley, Utah, mission, Texas Spanish; Chris Jensen, Salt Lake City, Utah, mission, Denmark; Ben Caton, Alamosa, Colo., mission, Slovania; Andy Jensen, Centerville, Utah, mission, Portugal.

San Diego State - Leon Carter, Green River, Utah; Trent Gardner, Rexburg, Idaho, mission, Oregon; Brady Trenkle, San Diego, Calif., redshirt.

UTEP - Mark Ingles, Mesa, Ariz., mission, Ecuador.

Colorado State - Bryan Christiansen, Castle Dale, Utah.

And what impact did leaving home and sharing the gospel for two years have on the lives and abilities of those who have served? Several of the returned-missionary players were asked whether serving a mission was important to them. Here is a sampling of their comments:

"I think my mission taught me what was important in life," said Mark Rydalch, the WAC's top sixth man and Utah's first man off the bench."My mission really opened my eyes and made me a better person."

Utah's Doug Chapman said: "My mission taught me maturity and how to live with other people. It has helped me so much in my marriage."

"My mission taught me to always have a good attitude," added Doug Meacham of Utah. "With a good attitude, you can overcome a lot of difficulties you meet in life."

Bryan Hofheins, a BYU reserve player, said his mission "really matured me. It taught me how to work with a companion and how to work as a team. It also taught me the values I needed to make my life worthwhile."

"My mission has been the greatest single experience of my life up to this point," said Randy Reid, BYU's point guard. "The things that I've had a chance to learn and the experiences I've had in helping other people change their lives for the better have brought me a lot of satisfaction."

"It's amazing what two years as a missionary could do to my life," explained UTEP's guard, Mark Ingles. "It developed me both physically and mentally and has meant so much to me in developing my testimony of the gospel. I reflect back and see how my life was improved because of my mission."

San Diego State's Trent Gardner, whose father was his coach at Ricks College, said, "My mission opened my eyes to what is important in life, and I've become a much better student."

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