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Yoest Still Shooting for NBA Career : Basketball: Former Crespi and Loyola Marymount standout has bounced between Europe and the CBA.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Mike Yoest graduated from Loyola Marymount in 1988 his goal was to play pro basketball.

It didn’t matter where, he just wanted to play. Working on the court beat any 9-to-5 job he could imagine.

He had solid if not spectacular credentials. As a senior, he started 32 games for Loyola, which had a 25-game winning streak and finished the season ranked 15th in the nation. He averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.

Fortunately for Yoest, the Loyola coaching staff had connections in Sweden. So when he was offered the opportunity to play there, the former Crespi High standout didn’t hesitate. He spent only one season in Sweden, but his pro career had begun.

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“The one thing I learned in Sweden is that I don’t like cold weather,” he said. “But I needed to see what I could make of the chance.”

Since then, Yoest, a 6-foot-7 forward, has spent five seasons bouncing between Europe and the Continental Basketball Assn. with hopes of eventually cracking the NBA. Yoest, who earned a degree in marketing, lives with his parents in Chatsworth during the off-season and has supported himself on low CBA wages and occasional acting work in commercials.

He has played for CBA teams in San Jose and Bakersfield, and his European stops include Sweden and Portugal.

Last season was his best in Europe. He averaged 25 points and 3.5 steals a game for Zitoira de Setubal in Portugal.

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But an NBA job remains elusive.

“Just once I’d like to get there and have a taste of it,” Yoest said.

He has come close to satisfying his appetite. The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings invited him to camp as a free agent in 1988. He tried out for both teams, but was cut. Yoest also was cut by Sacramento in 1990. Still, he considers the experience invaluable.

“I didn’t play well enough to impress anyone, but it was still a great thing for my career in Europe. I learned what it took to stay on my game and what they look for in the pros,” he said.

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Paul Westhead, who coached Yoest at Loyola, said his former player is just a bounce pass away from the NBA.

“Mike Yoest has missed being an NBA player by maybe 5%,” said Westhead, a former coach of the Lakers who now coaches at George Mason University. “He’s a guy who can run, jump, shoot and do everything. It’s a shame he hasn’t made it yet. He’s the kind of guy any coach would love to have.”

Yoest’s career nearly ended before he left the 11th grade at Crespi. In a tournament game, he suffered a fractured tibia and sat out the rest of the season.

“Here I am in my junior season and I get hurt. That left only one year for me to earn a scholarship,” he said.

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As a senior, Yoest lead the Celts into the second round of the Southern Section playoffs, averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds.

At Loyola, Yoest teamed with Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers and Corey Gaines in the 1987-88 season to give the school perhaps its best team. The Lions advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to North Carolina.

Yoest played one of his best college games during the tournament. In the first round against Wyoming at Salt Lake City, he scored 25 points, converting 15 of 17 foul shots during a 119-115 victory.

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Yoest’s first CBA experience was short. He was drafted by the Rockford Lightning in 1988, but his rights were traded to Albany before the season started. George Karl, current Seattle SuperSonics coach, cut Yoest at Albany.

“For a guy hoping to get a pro career I wasn’t doing too well,” Yoest said.

He signed with the CBA’s San Jose Jammers in 1990-1991. Like most players in the CBA, he earned around $3,500 a month for a six-month season.

“Except for the pay, the CBA is like the NBA. You play four games a week and go on 10-day road trips,” he said.

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Yoest recorded the first triple-double in Jammers’ franchise history. But the team history is a short one. The franchise relocated to Bakersfield in 1991. Soon after, it folded.

Forced to retreat home, Yoest decided to audition for commercials. His brother Steve already had been to a few tryouts. Yoest went to casting calls for LA Gear and Reebok.

“Both companies called and made me offers. I was kind of floored by it,” Yoest said.

After careful consideration he decided to go with Reebok. The company was making its “Dan and Dave” commercials, which focused on decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson and figured to be prominent during the 1992 Olympics. But the commercials were scrapped when O’Brien failed to qualify for the Olympics.

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“That guy not making the Olympics cost me a lot of money,” Yoest said. “But probably not as much money as it did Reebok.”

Yoest landed a position in Portugal at midseason and has played there the past three years. He is uncertain about returning to Portugal for a another season.

“Being in Europe creates problems,” Yoest said. “There is a new language to learn, the culture is different and you get homesick. You’re always out of touch with back home.”

Yoest was in Portugal in 1990 when he received a phone call at 4 a.m. His college roommate, Gathers, had collapsed and died from heart failure in a basketball game at Loyola.

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“When I got that call I didn’t believe it at first,” Yoest said. “Then you realize there’s nothing you can do.

“Hank and I were good friends but I couldn’t make it back for the funeral because of the season,” Yoest said. “When things like that happen, you feel helpless.”

Yoest is entertaining ideas of trying out for a new CBA team in Hartford. Paul Mokeski, a former NBA player with the Milwaukee Bucks and a Crespi graduate, is slated to be the head coach.

“I haven’t given up on any more NBA tryouts but I’m also being realistic,” Yoest said. “I’m not upset about how my career has gone. After all, how many people out there wouldn’t want to switch places with me?

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“I consider myself lucky. And besides, why give up the dream?”


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