Happy March Madness to those who celebrate! If you’re a sports junkie like me, this is the most wonderful time of the year (even if your Tar Heels were terrible this year and didn’t even make the tournament). And, if you’re like me, sometimes when you’re watching the NCAA tournament, you wonder (especially when watching teams from Utah) whether any of the players of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some may say, why does it matter? And the truth is, it doesn’t matter, BUT it can be fun to know who you might bump into at a fireside someday. So, I thought I’d save you some googling and share what I’ve learned about our fellow Latter-day Saints playing in this year’s March Madness.
Full disclosure: Figuring out who the Latter-day Saint players are in the bracket is far from an exact science and I am fairly certain I missed someone while compiling this list so if you know of someone playing in the NCAA Division I Tournament that is not on this list, please email our editor inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll happily add them.
NCAA Men’s D1 Tournament
It likely comes as no surprise that the majority of Latter-day Saints in the men’s NCAA tournament play for Utah State. USU’s impressive season earned an at-large bid in the tournament where they will face No. 7 seed Missouri as a No. 10 seed on Thursday at 11:40 a.m. MDT on TNT. Utah State, who are fifth overall in the country when it comes to 3-point shooting percentage, will look to advance in the tournament for the first time since 2001.
The Aggies roster is highlighted by star guard Steven Ashworth, who served a mission in Indianapolis, Indiana, and leads the team per game in points (16.3) points, assists (4.5), and steals (1.2).
In October 2021, Ashworth recounted how he used his basketball skills to find people to teach on his mission. “We had a term in the mission called Beat to Teach; if you beat someone in one-on-one, then you got to share a little message with them,” he said. He and his wife, Peyton, who served a mission in Paraguay, were married in the Newport Beach Temple in May 2021.
Ashworth is joined in the Aggies’ starting lineup by 7-foot-1-inch big man Trevin Dorius, who served a mission in Scottsdale, Arizona. He and his wife, Kalley, were sealed in May 2022. Dorius leads the Aggies in blocks with one per game and adds nearly 6 points and 4 rebounds per game.
Latter-day Saints Landon Brenchley, Isaac Johnson, and Mason Falslev are also on the Utah State roster but have not played significant minutes this season. Brenchley, whose older brother Jaxon just entered the transfer portal after playing for the Runnin Utes men’s basketball team for four seasons, served a mission in Toronto Canada (Mandarin-speaking) while Johnson and Falslev served in Ohio and Brazil respectively.
Jace Whiting, son of BYU women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting, has gotten impressive minutes for a freshman at Boise State this season. Averaging 15 minutes per game, Whiting has contributed 3 points per game, as well as an assist and nearly 2 rebounds. The 10-seed Boise State Broncos will take on 7-seed Northwestern on Thursday at 5:35 p.m. MDT on TruTV. Whiting spent two years away from basketball to serve a mission in Helsinki, Finland.
“Two years ago today, I began one of the greatest experiences of my life serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Whiting wrote on Instagram upon returning home from his mission in June 2022. “I thank my Father in Heaven each and every day for calling me to Finland to serve Him and His people. That country will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because of all the amazing people, the awesome culture, or the beautiful nature that it has to offer, but more so because it’s the place where I truly came to know God and His son, Jesus Christ.
“I know that my Redeemer lives, I’ve seen His hand countless times throughout my life, especially on my mission and I know that He is there and that He is real. I love Him with all my heart and I hope that one day when I see Him again that I can look Him in the eye and tell Him that I gave Him everything I had, and that I truly did. And I want Him to know that I did so because I never forgot everything that He did for me.”
The 7-seed Michigan State Spartans featured Jaxon Kohler recently on their YouTube page, even showing the freshman forward reading the Book of Mormon. “My faith is a huge part of me,” Kohler, who is the first player from Utah to play at Michigan State, said in the video. “Without it, I don’t believe that I would be in this same position. …The one question I am always asked is am I a Mormon? And the answer is yes. It’s something that I really enjoy telling people about, something that brings me happiness.”
Kohler is a four-star top 100 recruit who played AAU basketball with Lebron James’s son Bronny. In his first year with the Spartans, Kohler has averaged 3 points and 3 rebounds per game. Kohler and Michigan State will take on No. 10 USC on Friday at 10:15 a.m. MDT on CBS.
Caleb Lohner made what he called a difficult decision to transfer away from BYU last season and landed at Baylor, a school that had recruited him since high school. With the Bears, Lohner has seen his minutes cut in half along with his other stats, but he is still averaging 12 minutes per game and has contributed an average of 3 points and 3.5 rebounds during those minutes. The 3-seed Baylor Bears will take on 14-seed UC Santa Barbara at 11:30 a.m. MDT on Friday on TNT.
NCAA Women’s D1 Tournament
University of Utah
After one of the most successful seasons in Utah Women’s basketball history, the University of Utah will have the opportunity to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament as a 2-seed at home in Salt Lake City. They will open the tournament against 15-seeded Gardner-Webb, and the Utes will look to bounce back after a disappointing loss in the Pac-12 tournament.
Kennady McQueen, a sophomore guard from Henefer, Utah, and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has started all but one game for the Utes this season. McQueen contributes a solid all-around presence on the court, averaging 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 28 minutes per game, and was named to the Pac-12 Honorable Mention team. McQueen’s 21-point season-high performance came early in the season when Utah beat #16 Oklahoma on their way to winning the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Championship.
Utah’s first tournament game against Gardner-Webb will be broadcast on ESPNU at 5:30 MDT on Friday.
Shaylee Gonzalez didn’t miss a beat after transferring from BYU to play for the Texas Longhorns as a graduate student. The 5-foot-10-inch guard leads Texas in scoring with 12.7 points per game as well as 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Gonzalez, who has attracted the attention of WNBA scouts for years, will look to lead the 4-seed Longhorns to a win over East Carolina on Saturday at 8 p.m. MDT on ESPN. Texas will also have the luxury of hosting the first two rounds of tournament play at home in Austin.
Eva Ongoongotau, a Latter-day Saint from Pleasant Grove, Utah, will suit up for the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine who come into the tournament as a 14-seed facing 3-seed LSU at 3:30 MDT on ESPN2. The 5-foot-10-inch sophomore guard averages four minutes per game for Hawai’i. Highly recruited out of high school, Ongoongotau received offers to play for Utah Valley University, San Diego, Portland, and Cal State University of Northridge but ultimately chose to play for Hawaii.
Southern Utah University
After winning the WAC conference tournament, Southern Utah University enters the 2023 NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed and will face a formidable opponent in the 3-seed Notre Dame. The Thunderbirds enter the tournament on a 6-game win streak but have been hit-and-miss on the road this season.
Latter-day Saint Megan Jensen has started all but one game for the T-Birds this season, averaging 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Alexa Lord, a fellow Church member, averages 16 minutes per game and chips in 3.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Kinlee Sorensen is also listed on the roster but has not played for SUU this season.
You can watch the Thunderbirds take on Notre Dame on Friday at 1:30 MDT on ESPN2.
Josie Williams, a 6-foot-5-inch Latter-day Saint grad transfer from Utah Valley University, will represent 5-seeded Louisville in its game against 12-seed Drake on Saturday at 5:30 MDT on ESPN2. A graduate of Roy High School, Williams has averaged nearly nine minutes per game for Louisville but has provided a positive spark off the bench for the Cardinals, averaging nearly 3 points and 2 rebounds per game.