Traditionalists say the magic is missing from what Indiana high school basketball once was.
Clay Yeo would disagree. He and his teammates live it every day in Bourbon, the town about 30 miles southeast of South Bend that is home to Triton High School.
“This being a small community, tight-knit, it means lot,” said Yeo, a 6-foot-6 senior wing. “I can’t really go anywhere without people coming up to me and talking about basketball. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s great to give back to them through basketball.”
The Trojans have rewarded their fans with another memorable state tournament run, and Yeo is a big reason why. The multi-talented Yeo, who will play at Valparaiso, is closing in on 2,000 points in a career that already includes one state finals appearance.
Yet he says leading Triton (19-5) to another Lafayette Jeff Semistate championship against Central Catholic on Saturday and reaching the state finals as a senior would top all of his previous accomplishments.
“At this point, I think he cares more about winning than how many points he scores,” said Triton coach Jason Groves, who brings a Trojans team to the Lafayette Jeff Semistate for the fourth time in six years. “I think that’s why we’ve been as successful as we have in the tournament.”
Yeo was a sophomore on Triton’s 2011 state runner-up team. Since then, he has blossomed into the sort of player to whom the cliche “does everything” can aptly be applied.
Yeo leads the Trojans in scoring (26.7), rebounds (7.9), assists (3.0), steals (3.0), blocks (1.9), field goal percentage (56.7) and free throw percentage (73.7). His 3-point accuracy slips to 32.6 percent, only second on the team.
After collecting 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 44-41 victory over Fort Wayne Canterbury in the regional semifinals, Yeo stepped things up a notch for the finals against Pioneer. He hit 13 of 17 field goal tries while scoring 35 in a 53-41 victory.
“We just give him the ball and he can do whatever he wants, pretty much,” said junior Tanner Shepherd, the Trojans’ second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game.
“He knows (the attention) is going to come, so he knows he has to work extra hard day in and day out at practice. It’s paid off in the games. He crashes the boards really hard and gets a lot of rebounds and putbacks. He can get to the hoop really well, and he gets a lot of and-ones and everything.”
Groves said Yeo puts those points up within the Triton system, which favors working long possessions for high-percentage shots. While Yeo still accounts for nearly 50 percent of the Trojans’ per-game average, Groves said the team won more when Yeo tried to do less.
Joey Corder (4.0 points, 3.2 rebounds), Seth Glingle (4.3 points, 5.0 rebounds) and Cody Shively (3.2 points, 3.3 rebounds) round out the Trojan starting lineup.
“We talked to him and said, ‘Clay, you have to trust your teammates,’ ” Groves said. “You have to trust that they’ll be able to make plays and give the ball up. That’s one thing he’s done. The other guys have gained his trust throughout the season, and he knows he can rely on other people to help out.”
Yeo was in the stands when Triton made its first trip to Crawley Center in 2008. That team set the tone for a program that is now 3-0 in semistate games in Jeff’s historic gym.
Though he’s cut the nets down at Crawley once before, Yeo says there would be something special about winning as a senior.
“As a sophomore, you’re one of the lower guys on the totem pole, and you’re kind of almost along for the ride, and I feel like this time I’m kind of in the driver’s seat,” Yeo said. “I’m excited to take my team back there and hopefully try to get a win on Saturday.”