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Former Cougar and former Aggie join short list of Latter-day Saints to play in the NBA’s conference finals

Milwaukee Bucks guard Sam Merrill holds his arm in the air after taking a warmup shot.
Milwaukee guard Sam Merrill warms up before the second half of an NBA game in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last March.
Aaron Gash, Associated Press

Two members of the Milwaukee Bucks joined a short list of Latter-day Saint players to see action in the NBA’s conference finals last week.

Elijah Bryant and Sam Merrill both checked into the game at the end of the Bucks’ dominating 125-91 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bryant, a former BYU star, scored two points, grabbed four rebounds and had one assist in 11 minutes of playing time.

Merrill, a former Utah State guard who served a two-year mission in Nicaragua, also scored two points, dished out two assists and pulled down one rebound in four minutes on the court.

Both players each played limited minutes in Milwaukee’s first-round sweep of Miami and in the Bucks’ second-round series triumph over Brooklyn.

Which Latter-day Saints have played in the NBA playoffs?

Not very many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have participated in the NBA playoffs, let alone reached the conference finals or beyond. Here is a short list of players and what they accomplished.

  • Danny Ainge: The former BYU star and later NBA executive won NBA titles with the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and contributed to several deep playoff runs by Boston from 1981 to 1989. Ainge also reached the NBA Finals with Portland in 1992 and Phoenix in 1993. As an NBA executive, Ainge was with the Celtics when the team won another NBA championship in 2008.
Boston’s Danny Ainge (44) drives past Houston’s Jim Petersen in an NBA playoff game at Boston Garden.
Boston’s Danny Ainge (44) drives past Houston’s Jim Petersen in an NBA playoff game at Boston Garden on May 26, 1986. Ainge is part of a short list of Latter-day Saint players to go deep in the playoffs and win a title.
Associated Press
  • Greg Kite: The 6-foot-11 center from BYU was also a member of the Celtics’ 1984 and 1986 championships teams.
  • Danny Vranes: Former Utah star played in several playoff series in the 1980s with Seattle and Philadelphia.
  • Pace Mannion: Another former Utah Ute who saw action in two playoff games with the Utah Jazz in 1985.
  • Fred Roberts: This former BYU forward reached the finals with the Celtics in 1987.
  • Tom Chambers: The former Utah Ute played in the NBA Finals with the Phoenix Suns in 1993. He also reached the Western Conference Finals with Seattle in 1987 and Phoenix in 1989 and 1990.
  • Mike Smith: A former Cougar who played in two short series with the Celtics in 1990 and 1991.
  • Thurl Bailey: Played in several first- and second-round playoff series with the Utah Jazz before joining the church later in his professional career.
  • Andy Toolson: Former BYU guard who played in two playoff games with the Utah Jazz during the 1991 playoffs.
  • Travis Knight: Won an NBA championship as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000.
  • Mark Madsen: The returned missionary from Stanford won two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 and 2002.
  • Mark Pope: Played in two Eastern Conference Finals — one with Indiana in 1998 and one with Milwaukee in 2001 — before later becoming BYU’s head men’s basketball coach.
  • Casey Jacobsen: Played in one first-round playoff series with Phoenix in 2003.
  • Shawn Bradley: The former 7-foot-6 Cougar center reached the Western Conference Finals with the Dallas Mavericks in 2003.
  • Scot Pollard: Played in the Western Conference Finals with the Sacramento Kings in 2002 and reached the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007.
  • Jabari Parker: The highly-touted Duke star played in the 2018 playoffs as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and in the 2021 playoffs with the Boston Celtics.

When is the next game?

The Bucks and Hawks play Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. MDT.