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BY PAUL DANZER/ON COLLEGE HOOPS/St. Mary's Academy star was injured in March during NCAA Tournament loss at Oregon

COURTESY PHOTO: INDIANA UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS - Portland native Bendu Yeaney plays defense Wednesday against Butler in her first game of the season for Indiana after recovering from an Achillles tendon injury suffered in March in a game at Oregon.When Bendu Yeaney crumpled to the floor on March 24 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, she knew immediately there would be no magic fix.

Yeaney had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting and the Indiana Hoosiers were hanging around in the third quarter against Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when the left Achilles tendon that had been sore for more than a year ruptured.

"The hardest part was looking at my parents' faces. They knew exactly what happened. I just broke down crying," Yeaney recalled. "I knew what had happened and also seeing my parents (Maima and Joseph) sad was hard. I knew this was going to be something big and something that was going to take a long time before I got back on the court."

The Portland native and former St. Mary's Academy standout shared that memory last Wednesday night, in a phone interview 262 days after the injury and an hour or so after she made her return to the floor for the Hoosiers in a 64-53 win at Butler.

The 5-10 guard played 10 minutes against Butler, scoring three points with one assist, one steal, and one turnover as the 12th-ranked Hoosiers improved to 9-1.

"It felt amazing. It's been a long wait — a whole lot of rehab and just a lot of waiting and making sure my body is right to play," she said.

Yeaney followed up on Sunday with four points, one rebound and one assist in 15 minutes as the Hoosiers beat Youngstown State 93-56.

In her comments to the media after the game at Butler, Indiana coach Teri Moren said Yeaney "has worked real hard the last nine months, and that is not an easy injury to come back from. So I was really happy that she had the opportunity to get out there and get her feet wet."

Indiana has been to the NCAA Tournament in both of Yeaney's seasons and returns a strong roster — plus six talented freshmen. The Hoosiers were picked to finish third in the Big Ten and have more depth than last season. This is the most anticipated season in program history.

"That was all the motivation I needed (to rehab)," Yeaney said. "I knew that we had a special team and that I could add a special piece to the team when I got back. That's what kept me motivated and now I'm here."

Yeaney was able to join practices in late October, at first participating in only half-court drills.

She's not yet the player she was before the injury. Yeaney started 69 of the Hoosiers' 70 games in her first two seasons. As a sophomore she played 32 minutes a game and averaged 9.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

"I feel like I'm closer to normal," Yeaney said. "I'm still rehabbing every day and doing the things I need to, to make sure I get to how I was before the injury. Right now I think I'm in a really good spot."

The weeks immediately following the surgery to repair the tendon were the toughest of the months-long journey back to basketball. Thumb surgery following her freshman season at Indiana was the most serious injury Yeaney had experienced.

"This was the first time I needed someone to help me to walk around and to grab stuff. That part was mentally draining because I'm an independent person and having other people do things for me got me really frustrated," she said.

To help pass the time she taught herself a couple magic tricks. But, Yeaney knew there was no magic path back to basketball, so as soon as she was allowed, she started doing exercises to improve the movement in her ankle.

"Injuries test you mentally and physically," she said. "It was a mental game. I had to keep myself up and find things to make me feel positive about this experience I was going through. I had to become a leader off the court."

With six freshmen on the Indiana roster, Yeaney stepped up her vocal game in the early season.

"My voice came out a lot more. I had to keep my self mentally engaged and stay positive and not think about the negative things that had happened," she said.

The mental challenges continued upon her return to half-court drills.

"I had to conquer that. Even going up for a right-hand layup, I had to get my mind right," Yeaney said. "When practices started my teammates helped me a lot. It was more about me learning how to get back in the flow of things because I hadn't used my foot in a couple months."

Yeaney wants to go into broadcasting after basketball. She is studying sports media and has enjoyed learning to read a teleprompter, classes about interviewing, writing and behind-the-camera aspects of broadcast journalism.

If it had to happen, the Achilles injury occurred at the best time possible given the nagging pain she played with throughout her sophomore season.

"We did everything that we could to figure out how to manage my minutes," she said. "The Oregon game was when it decided to give out. At least it lasted the whole season and it was the last game when it happened."

She, naturally, aspired to be able to start this season with her team. That didn't happen, and she was on the bench as the No. 12 Hoosiers battled defending champion Baylor in a close game at the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But, given that the prognosis was that it could be into January before Yeaney was ready for game action, playing on Dec. 11 was a victory.

Yeaney showed flashes of the explosive competitor she's always been — Moren pointed to a steal and layup as vintage Yeaney. But, in 10 minutes she was called for four fouls.

"I think I was getting a little antsy," Yeaney said. "I was anxious to be out there. Also, I'm still trying to get back to the speed of the game. Being gone for nine months, that's a lot. I think Sunday (against Youngstown State) will be a lot better defensive game for me. I don't think I'll foul as much."

A starter her first two seasons, Yeaney figures to come off the bench this year — in part to control her playing time and in part because the Hoosiers are deeper than they have been.

Given that her doctor said it would be sometime in January before she was ready for game action, Yeaney is excited to be contributing any way she can.

"l'm just happy that I'm back early enough that I can get my feet wet before we hit Big Ten play," she said.

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@pauldanzer


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