MISHAWAKA – Clay Yeo says he can deal with the pain in his knee.
It was the pain in his heart and a true sense of loyalty that has the Bethel College basketball star returning to the court.
Yeo, who announced in December that his collegiate playing career was over due to another knee injury suffered in November, has decided to finish out his senior season.
Yeo, a former star at Triton High School and an Indiana All-Star, was slated to suit up on Saturday afternoon for Bethel’s huge Crossroads League game at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“Internally, I was hurting more watching my teammates play and not being out there with them,” said Yeo in a phone interview Saturday morning. “This is something that I have been thinking a lot about lately and I want to give it a go.”
“I plan to dress today (Saturday) and be available.”
Yeo, a 6-5 senior guard who has been Bethel’s top scorer each of the past two seasons after transferring from Valparaiso University, injured his knee last season. He played the remainder of the year hurt before undergoing surgery in the offseason. He then hurt the knee again in a game at a tournament in Wisconsin back in mid-November. Yeo was averaging 15.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game when he was injured.
The final factor in Yeo’s return to the hardwood came earlier this week. Bethel coach Mike Lightfoot announced his retirement, effective at season’s end, after 30 illustrious years in charge of the Pilots. Bethel assistant coach Ryne Lightfoot, Mike’s son and a former star at both NorthWood High School and Bethel, will be the head coach starting next season.
“I owe it to coach Lightfoot to finish it out with him,” said Yeo. “He’s been a tremendous coach and an outstanding mentor and an even better friend. I’ve known him a long time since I came to camps at Bethel as a kid. He was the first college coach to recruit me.
“It’s been a very emotional time for all of us this week with Coach Lightfoot announcing his retirement. We want to make this final season special for him. It just fuels our fire that this is his last go around. We want to play our butts off for him the rest of this season.”
Yeo said that he did not know about Lightfoot’s plans until Wednesday, just prior to the school announcing it. The official word came on Thursday at a press conference at Bethel. The elder and classy Lightfoot has won 777 games and seven national championship in his three decades in charge of the Pilots.
“I was shocked,” said Yeo of Lightfoot’s announcement. “I’m behind his decision 100 percent and I’m very happy for Ryne.”
“I went to my teammates on Wednesday and told them that I could not watch any more. The team is playing well and I did not want to interfere with that. But, I feel that I can still contribute this season.”
Bethel, ranked No. 14, took a 14-3 overall mark and a 4-1 league record into Saturday’s showdown at IWU. The host and No. 3-ranked Wildcats were also 14-3 overall and 4-1 in conference play. The Pilots return home on Tuesday night to host league foe Spring Arbor at 7 p.m.
Yeo, who led Triton to a pair of state runner-up finishes in his brilliant prep career, averaged 21 points and six rebounds per game each of the past two seasons for the Pilots.
Yeo, who has a micro-fracture in his knee, said that he now plans to have surgery after the season ends in March. He has an appointment on Monday with Dr. Brian Cole, the head team physician for the Chicago Bulls, who will perform the surgery.
Yeo knows that he faces an uncertain return after nearly two months off and a lot of pain.
“This is a different fuel for me,” emphasized Yeo. “I’m not playing for me. I’m playing for the school that I love to represent and my teammates, who are my brothers. And I’m playing for coach Lightfoot. I know that my knee will hurt, but those reasons and my faith makes it easier for me to put the pain behind me.
“I just want to be a part of this.”