NCAA basketball tourneys to feature long list of returned missionaries

In the coming days, thousands of college athletes will lace-up their sneakers and compete in the “Big Dance” — the 2021 NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Counted among the ballplayers are several Latter-day Saints who stepped away from the court for a season or two to serve full-time missions. Here’s a list of returned missionaries — including a young woman — who will be competing in college hoops’ premier event.

Utah State University

Utah State’s men’s basketball roster includes players who have worn the missionary’s name badge.

Every game in this year’s NCAA Tournament will be played in Indiana. That’s surely happy news for Aggie guard Steven Ashworth, an Alpine, Utah, native who served his mission in the Hoosier State.

Ashworth’s fellow guard, Brock Miller, served his mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina, prior to beginning his college playing career in 2017.

Utah State Aggies guard Brock Miller (22) shoots over San Diego State Aztecs guard Jordan Schakel (20) during the Mountain West tournament championship game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 13, 2021. San Diego State won 68-57.
Utah State Aggies guard Brock Miller (22) shoots over San Diego State Aztecs guard Jordan Schakel (20) during the Mountain West tournament championship game at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, March 13, 2021. San Diego State won 68-57. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Seven-foot-tall Aggie center Trevin Dorius served a two-year mission in Scottsdale, Arizona, after graduating from Utah’s Wasatch High School.

Utah State’s star forward Justin Bean, an Oklahoma native, put his playing career on hold in 2015 to serve a mission in Reno, Nevada.

Meanwhile, freshman forward Matthew Wickizer served his mission in Milan, Italy.

Brigham Young University

No surprise, Brigham Young University’s No. 23-ranked men’s basketball team also includes several returned missionaries.

Cougar forward Gavin Baxter served a mission in Washington, D.C., after graduation from Utah’s Timpview High School. His fellow Timpview alum, Hunter Erickson, is wrapping up his freshman campaign after completing his mission.

Senior guard Connor Harding, a native of Pocatello, Idaho, was a missionary in Atlanta, Georgia.

With his 6-foot-11-inch frame, junior center Richard Harward was easy to spot while serving his mission in Australia. Teammate Spencer Johnson, a Salt Lake Community College transfer, fulfilled his mission call to Italy.

Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) puts in a layup as BYU and Pepperdine play in semifinal West Coast Conference tournament basketball action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021. BYU won 82-77 in overtime.
Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) puts in a layup as BYU and Pepperdine play in semifinal West Coast Conference tournament basketball action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021. BYU won 82-77 in overtime. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Guard Trevin Knell sharpened his Spanish-language skills in Uruguay prior to playing for the Cougars. He can practice his español with fellow sophomore returned missionary Cameron Pearson, who served in Chile.

Forward Wyatt Lowell, a sophomore, served in Minnesota.

Junior guard and Gonzaga transfer Jesse Wade served in France. Missionary service is common in the athletic Wade family. His younger sister, Olivia — a Cougar soccer player — is also a returned missionary.

Westminster College transfer Brandon Warr served in Germany.

BYU’s women’s basketball team plays its opening game in the NCAA tournament on March 22 versus Rutgers. Forward Tahlia White is back with the Cougars after taking time away from the sport to serve a mission in Spokane, Washington.

BYU Cougars forward Tahlia White (21) rips a rebound away from San Francisco Dons guard Kia Vaalavirta (2) as they play in West Coast Conference basketball tournament semifinal action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021. BYU won 85-55 to advance to the finals against Gonzaga.
BYU Cougars forward Tahlia White (21) rips a rebound away from San Francisco Dons guard Kia Vaalavirta (2) as they play in West Coast Conference basketball tournament semifinal action at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 8, 2021. BYU won 85-55 to advance to the finals against Gonzaga. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah Valley University

When the Wolverines women’s basketball team make their debut appearance in the NCAA Tournament at this year’s event, their roster will include sophomore guard Emma Jones.

The Richfield, Utah, native returned to the team in 2021 after serving a mission in Portland, Oregon.

University of Southern California

Redshirt senior McKay Anderson, a guard for the Trojans, served his Mandarin-speaking mission in Boston, Massachusetts, and is also a cadet in the school’s Army ROTC program.