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Yoest Following the Bouncing Ball : Former Crespi Star Hopes to Reach NBA After Playing in Sweden, Portugal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For three years, Mike Yoest has lived the vagabond life of a professional basketball player, bouncing from Sweden to Portugal to San Jose. But he still hasn’t found the way to the NBA.

So the former Crespi High standout is giving it one more try. He played in the Summer Pro League at Loyola Marymount and is now hoping for an invitation to an NBA camp or from a team overseas.

A 6-foot-7 power forward, Yoest did not appear to have much hope of a pro career when he graduated from Loyola in 1988. But he put his scoring skills to good use in Europe, then received an invitation to the Sacramento Kings’ summer camp last year before spending a season in the Continental Basketball Assn.

“My experiences have been great,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to see the world and travel while I’m young and improve my game. I wouldn’t trade it.”

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His father Dave agreed.

“As long as he enjoys it and has the opportunity, he might as well go for it,” he said. “God knows, sooner or later you’ve got to sit down and do hard work, and that’s no fun.”

Nevertheless, Yoest said this is probably the last go-round before he settles down.

“I’ve been paying my dues going on my fourth year--it’s not a lifelong goal,” he said. “My whole life doesn’t center on making (the NBA). I don’t want to be one of those guys 35 (years old) and chasing a dream and not having a career. I can accept what happens and get on with my life.”

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Yoest, who was not recruited heavily during his senior season at Crespi High, blossomed into a standout at Loyola. He aided the Lions’ transformation from perennial loser to a high-scoring top 20 powerhouse under Coach Paul Westhead.

Yoest, known for his all-out hustle and more than his share of floor burns, began to get a feel for Westhead’s offense at the end of his sophomore season. The Lions earned a berth in the National Invitation Tournament and Yoest scored 25 points in Loyola’s last tournament game.

As a junior, Yoest started quickly and was among the nation’s scoring leaders in December. But his scoring average dipped to 19.3 and the Lions finished a disappointing 12-16--Westhead’s only losing record at the school.

Transfers Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Corey Gaines joined the team for the 1987-88 season and Yoest was selected as a co-captain. Loyola went on to become the nation’s top-scoring team, with Yoest averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds. The Lions averaged 110.3 points and won a school-record 28 games, including an opening-round NCAA regional game.

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In addition, Yoest’s last-second, three-point basket at St. Mary’s averted an upset and helped Loyola finish 14-0 in West Coast Conference play.

The attention Loyola received helped Yoest land a job in Sweden, where he had a good season although he didn’t care for the cold winter. The next year he played in Portugal, where he was a scoring star. His opposition included former Loyola teammate Forrest McKenzie, and the two had a storied shootout one night, each scoring more than 40 points.

Last summer Yoest was invited to the Kings’ mini-camp, although he discovered he was little more than practice fodder.

“It was tough--they had a lot of guys with guaranteed contracts and I was more or less a body,” he said. “But it was an experience and I got to play more than I would’ve (in the summer league).”

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Yoest ended up signing with San Jose of the CBA. After a stormy season that included two coaching changes, the team moved to Bakersfield. Along the way Yoest went from starter to bench-warmer to late-season star.

“He had his ups and downs, but he learned from it,” his father said. “I guess it was kind of like life.”

While the CBA offers an unglamorous life, it gave Yoest what he sought: the feeling he could play with NBA-level talent.

“The CBA was a good experience,” he said. “I learned a lot as a player. It’s the second-best league in the world. The only drawback is the lack of money.

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“At San Jose we went through three coaches and about 45 different players. I was the only player who made it through the whole year. I started at first, I didn’t play in the middle and then the last 10 games I had two triple-doubles, a couple games over 30 points. I proved I could play at that level. I proved it to myself.

“Now I’m trying to prove that here, to other people.”

For the established players and draftees with contracts, the summer league is a place to refine skills and stay in shape. For free agents, the league is serious business. Yoest and several other players paid a $300 entry fee and players from out of town had to pay travel expenses to L.A. besides covering their housing costs.

“People who don’t live here put a lot on the line to deal with it,” Yoest said. “There’s no guarantee on minutes. It’s a business.”

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The summer league ended Sunday. Yoest averaged 19 minutes of playing time and 8.1 points a game while shooting 52.8% from the field, 90% (27 of 30) from the free-throw line. He had 35 rebounds in eight games, 17 assists, 16 steals and 11 turnovers.

Now Yoest is waiting to see what will happen next.

“I hope to either get invited to (an NBA) camp or get invited to a good job overseas,” Yoest said. “I’m not closing any doors.”

Summer league director Larry Creger acknowledges that Yoest is a longshot to make an NBA team’s roster.

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“It’s about a 40-60 shot against,” Creger said. “It’s a close call. Mike has ability and plays hard. He’s a good guy who works hard--he deserves anything he gets.

“It’d be a great story for us and him if he makes it, wouldn’t it?”


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