It’s not everyday Indiana basketball, men’s or women’s, has a player from the Pacific Northwest. But because of its recruiting reach and brand of being “Indiana Basketball,” it never is necessarily out of the question.
Enter Bendu Yeaney: Portland, Oregon native and four-year varsity player at St. Mary’s Academy. She’s the only player on the roster from the Mountain or Pacific time zones, making it a bit of a unique recruitment.
It also just so happens that because Indiana uses apparel from adidas, she’s able to rock the newest pair of Damian Lillard sneakers, who also has a deal with the company. Being from Portland, Yeaney has been able to see Lillard blossom into an NBA superstar right in her backyard with the Portland Trail Blazers.
When she was asked about those shoes, Yeaney lit up. She explained she knows Lillard and is close with his sister, LaNae. Because of that relationship, Yeaney and Lillard have met on a few occasions. They’ve talked some too. Sometimes it’s basketball, sometimes it’s not. Either way, it’s a special relationship for Yeaney.
“He doesn’t talk about basketball as much as you think,” Yeaney said. “He just wants to be a family guy. We talk about anything. We talk about the NFL because he’s a Raiders fan, we talk about his music, and we talk about just how life is going.”
Having that relationship is unique. But as Yeaney enters her sophomore season, her situation at Indiana is unique, as well. As a freshman, Yeaney started every game she played. Because of the lack of depth, she was a shoe-in to play a ton of minutes (35.1 minutes per game, to be exact) and be a regular contributor, along with fellow guard Jaelynn Penn.
But now this season, things have changed a bit. IU coach Teri Moren can go a few players deeper on her bench, meaning Yeaney doesn’t need to be on the floor as much as she was a season ago. Yeaney also is now competing for minutes with freshman standout Grace Berger.
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With the new freshman and being a year older, Yeaney has a lot of experience at the guard position. Without Tyra Buss, she admitted it was weird at first playing without her. Because of that, she assumes a bit more responsibility in the backcourt.
“I think it’s going to help us step up,” Yeaney said of the absence of Buss. “Me and Jaelynn will step up a lot more and be more of a leader on and off the court. I had responsibility last year, but now I have a little bit more.”
It’s been an interesting start to the season for Yeaney. She battled injury throughout October, and because of that, wasn’t able to practice much. Once games came around, she was eased back into things. Yeaney didn’t start the first game of the season against Milwaukee, yet still played a major part in that win with eight points in 26 minutes along with playing standout defense.
Defense is something Moren mentioned Yeaney has improved coming into her sophomore season. Yeaney is one of the best athletes on the floor for the Hoosiers. She even took the jump balls a season ago. It’s not every day you see a guard doing that. Nonetheless, it’s just a matter of confidence for Yeaney in her second year, according to her coach.
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“They’re vocal,” Moren said of both Penn and Yeaney. “They’re helping coach Grace, they’re helping coach Aleksa… I always like having another coach on the floor, especially on the defensive end. I think it’s just the confidence they have being in our system.”
Through three games, Yeaney has shot just over 35 percent from the floor. That’s something Moren thinks will come with time. She played a season high 33 minutes in the win at Oakland and scored a season high 14 in the win over North Florida.
With Yeaney being such a versatile player, her role could be a bit different each game. If she needs to take the ball up the court, she feels comfortable doing that. If she can’t drive to the basket, which was a strong point for her as a freshman, she feels comfortable with her jump shot, something she worked on in the summer. If she needs to lockdown on defense, Yeaney’s name could be called.
“I’m just more comfortable now than I was last year,” Yeaney said.