MISHAWAKA – It’s been nothing but a win-win situation this season for both Clay Yeo and the Bethel College men’s basketball program.
Who would expect any less from a player and a program both known for being winners.
Yeo has been a major factor from day one for the Pilots. The former Triton High School star and Indiana All-Star played at NCAA Division I Valparaiso University last season before transferring to Bethel.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” said Yeo in a recent phone interview. “I feel like I’ve fit in perfectly here with the way this team plays and the chemistry we have.
“We have a lot of talented guys on this team and the competition at this level is tough. You have to be ready to play every night. I feel good and in a rhythm and I feel like my teammates trust me.
“It’s just been a real nice fit for me. Coach Lightfoot lets us play. We defend and we run and we get up a lot of shots. It’s just a great system, similar to the one we had at Triton.”
Longtime Bethel coach Mike Lightfoot, owner of a total of seven national titles and 726 coaching wins in his illustrious career, says Yeo has fit right in.
“From day one, Clay hit the ground running with us,” Lightfoot said. “The biggest thing is that he is a perfect fit. His game and his style fits our system. It’s just been perfect timing for both him and our program for him to come in.
“The thing too is that we knew Clay so well from recruiting him and from him attending camps here at Bethel. He can score and makes us hard to guard. He has come in and risen to the challenge.”
Yeo, a 6-5 sophomore guard, has been outstanding all season long. He was leading the Pilots in scoring through the first 13 games at 21,2 points-per-game. He also ranked first on the tam in blocked shots (16) and steals (19) and second in rebounds (6.6), assists (31) and 3-pointers (29). Yeo was shooting 52 percent overall from the field, including 46 percent from 3-point range, and also 76 percent from the free throw line.
“I think the guys at Valpo last year pushed me and that did help me become a better player,” said Yeo of his one season playing for the Crusaders. “The players here at Bethel are helping me to reach my full potential. We have a very special team here this season.”
The Pilots, ranked No. 5, sit at 14-1 overall after a pair of wins in Florida the past two nights. Yeo scored a total of 51 points in the two victories. Bethel’s lone loss was a tough 78-73 Crossroads League setback to No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan University back on Nov. 25. Bethel finished 28-8 last season, won its second straight Crossroads League tourney title and reached the Elite Eight of the NAIA national tournament.
Yeo also has a lot of respect for his current mentor.
“Coach gets you motivated in the right way,” said Yeo of Lightfoot. “He is also tough and really pushes you. I feel like he’s on my case more than anyone. But I respect him because he is doing it for the right reasons to make me the best player that I can be and he does it in the right way.”
Yeo scored a school and Marshall County record of 1,992 career points at Triton playing for coach Jason Groves, who himself played for Lightfoot at Bethel. Yeo led the Trojans to the Class 1-A state championship game in both 2011 and 2013.
Yeo did not hesitate though either to share a funny story about his coach.
“Coach is a real high energy guy and he was teaching us a new press in practice one day,” related Yeo. “He was on defense showing us this drill and he goes to plant in a defensive stance and falls right down. There was a huge outburst of laughter from the entire team. It was pretty funny to see.”
Lightfoot can also share a laugh about his standout player.
“The thing that would make Clay better as a player for us is if he washed and swept out my car,” said Lightfoot with a laugh. “Or maybe dusted my office.”
It’s easy to share some laughs for sure when both are in such a win-win situation.