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Yoest's Odyssey a Learning Experience

June 23, 1989|SAM MARCHIANO

Mike Yoest thought his formal education ended when he received his degree in marketing from Loyola Marymount last spring. But the 6-6 basketball forward found himself reading more books than could be found in an English Literature syllabus when he wound up playing professional basketball in Ostersund, Sweden.

"They have almost no television in Sweden. There are only two channels. They don't come on until 5 p.m., and it's basically Swedish programs," Yoest said.

"It wasn't like I could go back to my apartment and listen to the radio or watch television, so I read a lot. I read over 20 books while I was there--mostly adventure books--and I did crossword puzzles."

Yoest, Loyola's scoring leader as a junior in 1987 and a key player in his senior year when the Lions finished with a 28-4 record, returned in April from playing basketball in Sweden, but not before first experiencing the rejection of the NBA and Continental Basketball Assn.

After being cut from free agent rookie camps at Golden State and Sacramento, Yoest joined the CBA's Rockford (Illinois) Lightning, the team that drafted him. He survived 1 1/2 weeks of camp with hopes of making the team, but he was traded to Albany.

Yoest's stay in Albany was brief. He was the team's final cut three days after his arrival.

Since it was already mid-November, Yoest's hopes of playing professionally in 1988 looked bleak.

But some old friends from Loyola intervened, and Yoest made his professional debut in Sweden.

Brad Dean, a Loyola alumnus and coach of the Sodertalje Swedish team, received a phone call from the Ostersund organization. Former Kansas forward Charles Bledsoe, the lone American on the team, had broken his wrist and was out for the season. Ostersund needed a forward immediately.

Dean telephoned Judas Prada, a Loyola assistant coach, who recommended Yoest.

Before you could say Sven, Yoest was off to Sweden to play for a team mired in last place and based in a farming community of 50,000 people.

"When I got cut from Albany I thought I was pretty much done playing basketball and that I'd have to go back to Los Angeles and get a job," Yoest said.

"I've prepared myself for the end of my career since college. I'm a long shot to play (in the NBA). I always have been a long shot. I just didn't want to look back on everything when I'm 40 years old and ask why I didn't give it my best shot."

Yoest has always given it his best shot.

After tearing ligaments in his left knee during his sophomore season at Crespi High in Encino and having an unspectacular junior year, he went on a tear during his senior season and earned an athletic scholarship to Loyola.

"People have always said about me: 'Oh, he's a good player but he'll never amount to anything. He got a scholarship to college, but he'll just sit on the bench and get his education,' " Yoest said.

"That's how I looked at it, too. But I also thought that if I was given a chance . . . if I worked hard and was able to say to myself that no one worked harder, then I would be satisfied. As it turned out, hard work paid off, and the pieces fell into place."

At Loyola, Yoest was the consummate worker. He was the team leader in diving after loose balls and getting floor burns each of his four years at Loyola.

In his senior year, Yoest led the Lions to an NCAA tournament berth and a stunning first-round upset of Wyoming before losing to powerhouse North Carolina.

He ended his career at Loyola with 1,601 points, the fifth highest point total in the school's history.

Loyola Coach Paul Westhead, a Yoest fan from the start, regarded him as "a great college player for the Lions . . . a combination of talent and hard work."

There were more talented players at Loyola--namely prolific scorer and rebounder Hank Gathers--but none who played harder. To the Loyola partisans Yoest was the favorite, the one who seemed to make good things happen at critical times of the game, out-scrapping an opponent for the clutch rebound, or getting the key steal.

After Yoest joined Ostersund, good things seemed to happen there as well.

He averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, and his team moved from 11th to seventh place, missing the playoffs by one game.

"The people in Sweden were exceptionally nice. They did as much as possible to make sure that I was comfortable and enjoying their country. They were also very interested in hearing about the United States," Yoest said.

Yoest even became a guest lecturer on contemporary U.S. history when a teammate who taught at a local elementary school asked him to speak to his students.

"At first I was nervous because I didn't know how good their English would be, and I didn't know any Swedish. They were shy because they didn't think I would understand them, but once we got to know each other they started to ask all sorts of questions," Yoest said.

"They wanted to know if I had seen any movie stars in Los Angeles. They knew about the Lakers, and they wanted to know if gang violence is as bad as they say it is."

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