The very first day Bendu Yeaney was in the transfer portal, she got a call from Adia Barnes whose phone number was probably still in her address book.
The two have known each other since Yeaney was a sixth grader in Oregon and Barnes was an assistant coach at Washington. Barnes recruited Yeaney at UW, then Arizona after taking the head coaching job in Tucson.
Yeaney committed to Indiana anyway and played three seasons there, but their relationship didn’t take a hit.
“It was just like we didn’t miss a beat,” Yeaney said. “We were just right back to how we were. That’s what makes her the best coach in the country.”
And, this time, Yeaney jumped at the opportunity to play for her. She took an official visit to Arizona in February and was sold on Barnes’ program after watching it stun No. 7 Stanford in front of 8,000 fans.
“I was here with my parents and I just really liked how the fans were really into the game, a lot of energy, and just seeing how they play up and down,” Yeaney said. “They push the pace, they like to defend, they like to score fast. Coach Adia really wants the players to be at their best, so she pulls them to the side and really talks to them and that’s just how you get better and I think that she can really develop me as a player, so that’s why I really wanted to come here.”
Yeaney made her commitment official a couple weeks later. She was supposed to visit at least one other school, but that didn’t happen because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything got shut down, so I was like, ‘Oh, that’s just fate,’” Yeaney said. “That was telling me to go to Arizona.”
Among the things Barnes and Yeaney had discussed on the phone was getting her year of eligibility back. Limited by her Achilles, Yeaney only played six games last season before leaving the Indiana program in January.
Thanks to some help from the Hoosiers, Yeaney received that precious hardship waiver in September, meaning she will have two years at Arizona instead of one. She got even more good news Wednesday, learning that the NCAA granted her immediate eligibility for the 2020-21 season.
Yeaney figured that would happen, but “at the same time you just never know how the NCAA is gonna look at your case.”
“We were in workouts, and after workouts Adia told Jessika (Carrington) to tell me that I needed to call her,” Yeaney said. “And at first I was like, ‘What do I need to call her about?’ And so I called her and Adia was like, ‘I have two things. I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?’ And I was like, ‘Just give me the bad news.’ And I thought she was gonna be like, ‘Oh you’re not eligible this year.’
“But she was like, ‘The bad news is I’m still not at practice yet.’ And then she was like, ‘The good news is that you’re eligible to play this year and you’re looking really good. We want you to play this year with us.’ So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m excited, I’m ready to go,’ and I called my parents right after and they were excited.”
Looking back, Yeaney wishes she didn’t play at all last season. She never felt like her usual, explosive self. But being the competitor that she is, she returned to the court in December, just nine months after tearing her Achilles.
“I really wasn’t ready,” she said. “I wanted to get out there as soon as possible and I should have listened to my body. I realized after the six games that I needed to hold myself back and I realized that maybe it was time for me to get a new change of scenery, too.”
It was tough for Yeaney’s family to watch her play in the Big Ten. Being in the Pac-12 means she’ll get at least two games a year in her home state, though ironically the University of Oregon is where she tore her Achilles in March of 2019.
“The point guard on Indiana was pivoting, she passed it to me, Satou (Sabally) was guarding me, I went up to grab the pass, came down and tried to take off because Satou tried to close out really hard,” Yeaney recalled. “And as soon as I took off, my leg gave out and I knew exactly what had happened.”
Barnes was considering redshirting Yeaney in 2020-21 so she could have even more time to heal, but the Indiana transfer has looked so good in preseason workouts that they agreed it’s unnecessary. Yeaney said she is 90 to 95 percent healthy and should be 100 percent by the time the season begins in late November.
“If I have a tweak or something we’re going to talk about it, but as of right now I’m ready to play and she’s ready to play me,” she said.
Yeaney will add even more depth to an Arizona team that was already projected to be top-10 in the country. Yeaney started in 69 (of 76) games at Indiana but, at least in her first season at Arizona, will likely back up senior Sam Thomas and Oklahoma transfer Shaina Pellington on the wing.
“As long as I fight for my minutes that’s all that matters to me,” Yeaney said. “I want to be on the floor. I want to help the team win. And so regardless if I come off the bench or start, I’ll come in and do what I got to do.”
Either way, Barnes said Yeaney “adds a ton to our team.” Before rupturing her Achilles, she averaged 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game at Indiana, often guarding the other team’s best player. Her best season came as a sophomore in 2018-19 when she averaged 9.7 points and 1.5 steals per contest.
“I made it to the (NCAA) tournament my sophomore year, I also won the WNIT my freshman year, so I think I bring a lot of experience,” Yeaney said. “I can bring scoring, I can be on the defensive side, I bring a lot of energy, so I think I could do a little of everything for us.”
As well as space the floor for posts like Cate Reese and slashers like Aari McDonald.
Yeaney only shot 31 percent from 3 at Indiana, but that mark is a little deceiving. She made 39 percent of her triples as a freshman, then 20 percent as a sophomore after overcoming a hand injury.
“Actually my freshman year I broke my thumb, so I was playing with a broken thumb the whole year,” she said. “And then I had surgery on it, so my sophomore year I just had to get used to my thumb being back to normal.
“I think I’m a better shooter than a lot of people know about, but I think you’ll see that this year. I’ll try to take them a lot more because we have to space the floor, and I think we are good 3-point shooting team, so I’ll get a lot of open shots.”
But the name of Yeaney’s game is her athleticism, which should fit well in Arizona’s aggressive, uptempo system.
“Growing up going through AAU, high school, that’s exactly how I played,” Yeaney said. “And so now coming back to being able to play how I used to play, it’s gonna be fun and I’m happy to be here.”
So far, it’s been a seamless transition with her new teammates.
“They’re characters, I love all of them,” Yeaney said. “They’re fun to be around. We do a lot of TikToks, dancing, stuff like that. I’m really close to Aari because we’ve known each other for a long time. I’ve known her since she was at Washington, so it’s just fun to be able to be around somebody that I’ve known for a while. We have chemistry on and off the court.”