Kendall Stafford’s career at UNA has ended but during his time playing basketball for the Lions he accomplished more than enough to add to a well-established family legacy.
Stafford started his playing career at Corinth high school in Corinth, Mississippi. Basketball became his eventual strong sport that led him to play in college, but he started as a three-sport athlete.
“I played baseball, football, and basketball but after I tore my ACL and had some growth plate issues, I just stuck with basketball” Stafford said. Staying with basketball led Stafford to commit to Northeast Mississippi Community college to start his college playing career.
At Northeast, Stafford averaged 10.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game during his two-year run. He also scored in double figures in 21 games during his time there. But for Stafford, Northeast taught him some things that he never forgot.
“You have to always stay on top of things” Stafford said when reflecting on his time at Northeast.” I had to realize I have to go hard every possession and never take plays off.” That motivation and drive that he learned led Stafford to receive several offers to continue his college career.
Though Stafford received multiple offers, UNA’s offer to Stafford carried more weight on it than others for several reasons including the legacy attached with Staffords and UNA.
Kendall’s father Fred Stafford was a member of the 1990-91 team for the North Alabama Lions that won the Division II national championship. In the title game against the Bridgeport Knights, Fred Stafford scored 24 points, was named MVP of the game, and was named a member of the all-tournament team.
Maurice Stafford, who is Kendall’s uncle, is a UNA Hall of Fame member who was inducted in 1999. During his playing time for the Lions, he was a two-time All-Gulf South selection in 1983 and 1984 and won Gulf South player of the year as a senior. In the 1984 season, Maurice Stafford also set a Division II record for the highest field goal percentage in a single season at 75%. Both Maurice and Fred both played and started their college careers at Northeast before transferring to UNA.
Kendall Stafford had a legacy to chase, but said that his father or his uncle “never pushed or swayed” him to go to UNA. Instead, Kendall committed to UNA for another reason.
“UNA showed they really wanted me,” Stafford said.” They were calling me every week.” Stafford committed to UNA under the direction of then head coach, Bobby Champagne.
“My junior year I was able to focus on being an athlete. I was also able to focus on just developing my game” Stafford said, who at the time couldn’t anticipate the changes that were about to occur. He started all 28 games for the Lions that season while leading the team in scoring at 15.5 per game while pulling down 8.5 rebounds which landed him fourth in Gulf South conference. He scored in double
figures 24 times and had six double-doubles. Stafford would unexpectedly and quickly have to change his approach to the game in a hurry.
On March 13, 2018 the University of North Alabama announced they would fire former head coach Bobby Champagne. Within a month after the firing of coach Champagne, the university hired Tony Pujol as head coach for the basketball team. During the 2018-19 spring signing class, Pujol brought in seven new players from transfers and freshman signings. Stafford and Kendarius “DeDe” Smith returned in the fall as the only two senior players.
The Lions would also move up to Division I competition that would start in the upcoming fall during Stafford’s senior campaign.
Within one year, the UNA men’s basketball team shifted from a team with a mixture of older veteran players to a team that saw a new head coach and a team with only two seniors being Stafford and Smith.
“I went from having three seniors who were the leaders to me being the leader with DeDe” Stafford said when discussing the change. “I lead by example.”
The Lions finished their first season in Division I at 10-22 and collected a 7-9 conference recorded that saw them as a sixth seed during the ASUN tournament. It was their first year in the conference.
“We had a solid first year in Division I. We definitely could have done better but we came together early,” Stafford said when reflecting on this year’s results. “This is a great young team moving forward.” “I’m going to miss the team because we bonded real well. I will also miss hearing the crowd getting into the game,” Stafford said on the things he will miss most from playing.
Stafford also credited Coach Pujol for more than just being his coach.
“Coach stayed on me. Not just for being a basketball player but for being a great man,” Stafford said. “That was the most important thing to him.”
Stafford finished the year averaging 10.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds during his senior campaign. He will graduate with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and will continue to look for opportunities at furthering his playing career by playing overseas.