Campus News

Yeo plays in pain for coach Lightfoot

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He ran like a deer up and down the court, leaping almost effortlessly every now and then for a powerful slam dunk. Clay Yeo was the superstar of the Bethel basketball team, without the superstar ego.  His game was complete. He could score, rebound, dish and play D. He had two great seasons for the Pilots after transferring to Bethel from NCAA Division I Valparaiso. This year, in his final season, the team got off to a great start, winning its first six games. Then, suddenly, like a deer getting shot by a hunter, it looked like Clay Yeo’s basketball life was over.  Yeo was driving to the hoop during a game against Viterbo University in Wisconsin on Nov. 17. A Viterbo player collided with him from the side, banging into Yeo’s right knee.Yeo “I knew something was seriously wrong immediately,” said Yeo. “As an athlete you just know.” He also had some past experience with knee problems.  You see, Yeo tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the sixth game of the 2015-2016 season.  He played through it that year, and despite the pain he led the team in scoring and  a 22-8 record. The team finished third in the highly competitive Crossroads league and received a bid  to the NAIA Tournament where the Pilots lost in the second round. Yeo was named first team All Crossroads League for the second straight year and he was also named first team NAIA All-American.  It was a great year for him, but the wear and tear of playing with a torn meniscus had taken its toll. He learned after the season that he had also developed a microfracture. He had surgery in March and was told he would need 7-9 months for recovery.  In November, as this season started, Yeo was in uniform and playing well. “I was seven months in to my recovery,” said Yeo. ”I was about 85 percent healthy.” It turned out that Yeo’s instincts about his knee injury during the Viterbo game were right. A visit to the doctor confirmed it. He had another microfracture in his knee and would need surgery to repair it, including a cartilage transplant. The season was over for Yeo. His career was over. Now, surgery was all about repairing his knee so he could walk without pain. It was about quality of life, basketball was over. Or was it? “I spent a lot of nights lying in bed asking myself if I should gut it out and try to play, said Yeo.” I struggled watching my teammates play, knowing I couldn’t help them.” Then, something happened that changed everything. On Jan. 3 the team played and beat Marian that evening 71-64. Everything seemed normal until the players were told they needed to be at a meeting with coach Lightfoot the next day at 1:30. Yeo said that got everyone wondering because that was not the typical schedule after a game. It was during that meeting that Lightfoot told his players he was retiring after this season. This was it for coach Lightfoot. This would be his last group of guys. Yeo said his questions about playing were answered.  He called a meeting immediately with the seniors on the team and assistant coach Ryne Lightfoot to ask them how they felt about him returning to play in whatever way he could. “They’d been playing really well and had great chemistry, I didn’t want to interfere with that,” said Yeo.  “I wanted to make sure they were ok with me coming back.” The meeting went well and Clay Yeo is back on the court. He’s playing with pain. He’s playing for his teammates. But most of all, he’s playing for Mike Lightfoot. “When he announced his retirement that changed everything for me,” said Yeo. “He has been such a great influence on me. When I was in eighth grade he started recruiting me. He would have me over to their house and he was just always there for me. I felt like I owed it to him to try to finish out the season.” Yeo returned to game action on Saturday, Jan. 7 and helped the Pilots beat the then No. 3 ranked Indiana Wesleyan 88-84. He played 22 minutes and scored 12 points. “I can only play three or four minutes at a time then I need to rest,” said Yeo.  ”I have to play differently. It’s very painful. I can’t make quick cuts. I have to be smart.” Yeo is not the same deer-like athlete he once was. Now he’s like the cagey veteran who has to play smart because his body won’t let him do what he once could do. He’s been told that the pain will be excruciating at times. The bones in his knee are rubbing against each other without any protection from cartilage. And at the end of the season the surgeon for the Chicago Bulls, Brian Cole, will perform the surgery that he desperately needs. But for now Yeo said the pain is worth it. He loves playing and giving whatever he can to the team and to the coach he loves. He said the stage is set for a memorable season. “This team has more balance than any other team I’ve played on. We have depth and a lot of talent. And coach has chosen to finish his career out with us.”    
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