Kansas State Basketball: How Dustin Yoder Endured to Make It on D1 Coach Staff

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2014

Feb 10, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats fans hold up signs in support of their team during a game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Fred Bramlage Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Dustin Yoder's Facebook Page

How much are your dreams worth to you? 

For most people, their pursuit of their childhood dreams are put to bed when the cost becomes too high. For most, they concede chasing a fantasy for the security of a steady job, consistent income and the chance to raise a family. 

Not Dustin Yoder. 

For the Kansas State video coordinator, the cost of health problems, poverty and uncertainly haven't deterred him from chasing his lifelong dream of becoming a basketball coach at the Division I level. 

Small-Town Roots

Most guys that are able to find their place among the college basketball coaching ranks are either former players or were able to climb up the ladder in major markets like Chicago, New York or Texas. 

Again, this isn't the case for Yoder. 

He hails from Bethany, Illinois, a small town in the central part of the state with a population that hovers around 1,300. 

At Okaw Valley High School, Yoder was a jack of all trades, lettering in five sports—basketball, baseball, football, track and golf—in his four years. But his specialty was undoubtedly basketball. 

Yoder lettered in a whopping five sports at Okaw Valley High School.
Yoder lettered in a whopping five sports at Okaw Valley High School.Dustin Yoder's Facebook page

A shooting specialist off the bench his freshman season, Yoder quickly became the pride of the hardwood in Bethany. When he graduated, he was the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,517 points. 

While in high school, Yoder knew he wanted to be involved in college athletics and was hoping to make it as a player. However Mike Reynolds, Yoder's head coach, knew that coaching was the more likely path for his star player.

"He was always a leader," Reynolds said. "Always had a good head on his shoulders, and I think he knew that someday he wanted to be a coach." 

But despite his success, he was hardly recruited by any four-year colleges in 2006, his senior year. His only offer was from Lake Land College, a junior college 25 miles southeast of Bethany. 

"The assistant coach at that JUCO was a former coach in my conference that I had a really good relationship with," Yoder said. "To be honest, that was really the only major player for me." 

So Yoder accepted Lake Land's offer and spent two seasons as a point guard there. He struggled to see consistent playing time, though, as he was buried on the depth chart behind Huzie Hambrite, a point guard that had verbally committed to Ball State. 

"I was playing every game, but it was limited minutes," Yoder said. "I came in when our point guards needed a break. I was the one that came in (when) they needed a quick breather." 

Already seeing his dream of making it in college basketball as a player slip away, the final blow was delivered midway through his second season at Lake Land. That was when Yoder tore his right ACL, knocking him out for the rest of the year. 

"I wanted to play Division I or II, that's why I was excited about going to a JUCO to play," Yoder said. "But I knew that by the time I had the injury, I knew I wasn't going to get there." 

That's when Cedric Brown, the head coach at Lake Land, told Yoder that if he wanted to continue pursuing his dream of being involved in high-major basketball, that coaching would be the best route to take. And the best start on that road would be finding a school where he could be a student manager. 

So Yoder made the decision to move on from playing and take Brown's advice. 

CHAMPAIGN, IL - JANUARY 22: Illinois Fighting Illini fans cheer during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Assembly Hall on January 22, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State won 73-68. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Yoder Lands in Champaign

After deciding to try to become a manager, Yoder placed calls to four different universities. 

Kansas and Kentucky never got back to him, and Purdue informed Yoder there were no openings. However, Illinois, which at the time was headed by Bruce Weber, told Yoder to come to Champaign to work their summer camps on a sort of trial basis. 

So he did, and Yoder thought that he had done enough to earn a spot on the staff that summer of 2008. 

"I thought everything was good," Yoder said. "So I enrolled in school." 

A month passed in Yoder's first semester at Illinois before he finally heard word from the coaching staff that he had been accepted to be a manager for the program. 

That kicked off a three-year stint where Yoder went from a newbie his first year to head manager in 2011, his final year. In order to try and learn the job of coaching, he spent nearly every hour of the day when he wasn't in class in the offices.

By his third year, Yoder had grown enough contacts through Weber and his assistants at Illinois that he was confident he'd find a job, either as a graduate assistant or full-fledged assistant coach, somewhere after he graduated.

That was when Yoder was floored with news that still haunts him to this day.

The C-Word

As Yoder began his final semester with the Illini, he started to notice an abnormal growth on his neck that soon grew to the size of a golf ball. 

So he went to a local hospital in Champaign to get the growth checked out. Yoder's memory of this day—which he calls far and away the worst of his life—still sticks in his mind like the lingering pain of a lost relationship or a death of a loved one. 

After getting the growth biopsied and having blood drawn from it, the doctor returned to Yoder to deliver the news. While he couldn't say with absolute certainty, the doctor informed Yoder that he believed he had lymphoma, a cancer in his neck. 

That same day, the doctor called up Yoder's parents and gave him a prognosis, which included intense sessions of chemotherapy. 

Yoder was shocked. In a few months, he was supposed to be graduating from Illinois and moving on with his dream of becoming a college basketball coach. Now it seemed as though for the second time in three years, forces beyond his control were out to prey on him. But now, instead of taking his playing career in the form of a knee injury, they potentially wanted his life. 

Over the next month, Yoder struggled to cope with the news. He still plugged away at his coaching search, but he was skeptical at best. 

"I didn't know who would hire me," Yoder said, "especially considering that I didn't know how long I would be around, not only for practices, but alive." 

The Illinois coaching staff showed up in a show of support to one of Yoder's intramural games.
The Illinois coaching staff showed up in a show of support to one of Yoder's intramural games.Heather Coit/Associated Press

The Illinois program took the news hard as well. The news fell during the university's intramural basketball season, while Yoder played on a team with some of his friends outside of basketball. His team was scheduled to play a team composed of the rest of the managerial staff. 

At that game, Weber and the entire coaching staff showed up in support of Yoder. 

"It was a really emotional moment," said Kevin O'Connor, a former manager at Illinois who worked with Yoder. "He was more committed than even I was, and it was just sad." 

While Yoder was dealing with the news, he struggled to find enough peace to even sleep at night. 

"I developed anxiety, and it led to a heart murmur," Yoder said. "I was worried because this was all happening at the end of my manager career, and I'm wondering how this is all going to affect it." 

To this day, Yoder is still on medication to deal with the heart problems he suffered while dealing with the worst news of his life. 

After a month, Yoder was recommended to a neck specialist who would handle Yoder's care from there on out. That specialist ran his own tests on the bulge, and that's when Yoder felt the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders. 

According to Yoder, the specialist informed him after a few days of tests and said, "I don't think you have cancer." 

It wasn't cancer. 

Instead, it was a unique case of enlarged lymph nodes. The specialist prescribed a series of medications to Yoder for the growth, and in a few weeks it went away. In a few weeks, Yoder went from wondering how much time he had left to when his time was going to start. 

With Adversity Came Poverty

With the breath of newfound life, Yoder graduated from Illinois with a degree in kinesiology and, through his connections at Illinois, landed a job as an assistant coach at Parkland College, a junior college in Champaign. Yoder was well on his way to making his dreams come true. 

But his job with Parkland came at a price, specifically his living conditions and income.

Between his coaching stipend, which was a measly $400 per month, and $4,000 each semester for teaching classes on the side, Yoder was making just shy of $13,000 annually. 

That forced Yoder to live in an apartment infested with bugs and rusty appliances, and he went on food stamps, which amounted to $200 per month in groceries. 

Living in poverty wasn't easy for Yoder. For the first time in his life, he thought about giving up his dream and falling back to his Plan B, which was to become a gym teacher and live a normal life. 

"I just had a dream, and I wasn't ready to give it up yet," Yoder said. "But I thought about it. There'd be many nights where I'd sit and wonder how I could have a family and continue this little and support myself through my whole life." 

Yoder spent one year at Parkland, where he went 19-13 in 2011-12 before Weber helped him land a full-time job at Illinois Springfield, a Division II school 80 miles west of Champaign. There, he was slated to make just $8,000 annually plus the cost of graduate school covered. 

While Yoder was slowly but surely climbing up the ladder, the financial problems were still lingering.

Mar 02, 2013; Waco, TX, USA; Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber reacts during the first half against the Baylor Bears at the Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

An Old Mentor Comes Calling

Around the time Weber helped secure Yoder the assistant job at Illinois Springfield, he was let go by Illinois. Less than a month later, he was hired by Kansas State to replace the departed Frank Martin as the new head coach. 

When Weber arrived, he quickly filled the coaching staff, hiring Chris Lowery, Alvin Brooks III and Chester Frazier, an old player and graduate assistant under him at Illinois, for the assistant jobs. He also hired Brad Korn as his director of basketball operations and Drew Speraw to the video coordinator position. 

But he also inherited two graduate assistants from Frank Martin—Eric Rodriguez and Darren Kent—so it appeared that he would be unable to bring on any former managers or graduate assistants to fill those roles. 

However, as the end of the summer approached, Kent made the decision to leave K-State and join Martin on his staff at South Carolina. That left Weber searching for a graduate assistant. So he called one of his old managers from Illinois, who referred him to Yoder. 

Weber called Yoder and offered him the opening, which after some contemplation, Yoder accepted. 

Some would say that going from an assistant coaching job to a graduate assistant would be a step down. But Yoder saw it differently. 

"I saw it as a high-major coaching opportunity," Yoder said. "Even though I was excited, there was a part of me that felt bad for the Illinois Springfield situation. I had helped sign a player, but all of a sudden I was out." 

The selling point Weber made to Yoder was the ability to extend his coaching tree further than he would at the Division II level. Since Yoder had never officially signed a contract with Illinois Springfield, he was able to easily get out of that commitment and join his old mentor in Manhattan, Kansas. 

Shortly after arriving at K-State, Yoder travelled with the team on a summer trip to Brazil.
Shortly after arriving at K-State, Yoder travelled with the team on a summer trip to Brazil.Dustin Yoder's Facebook page

That first season, under Weber's tutelage, the Wildcats won the Big 12, their first conference title since 1977. Weber was named Big 12 Coach of the Year, and things were going good all around the Little Apple. 

"That first year was awesome," Yoder said. "I had a lot of fun, I loved the coaching staff." 

However, Yoder still felt the clock ticking down on him. He only had a year left of being a graduate assistant before he would be forced to go job hunting again. 

He was also turning 26 and would be forced go find his own health insurance to cover his medications for his heart murmur, something that would be a huge financial burden on him. 

That offseason, Korn left K-State to take an assistant coaching job at Missouri State, opening up the director of operations job. The rumblings around the office were that Weber was considering moving Speraw up to that job and moving Yoder up to the video coordinator position. 

"It definitely wasn't a for sure thing but that it was in limbo," Yoder said. 

On August 16, 2013, Weber made it official. He promoted Speraw to Korn's old position and moved Yoder up to video coordinator, making Yoder a full-time staff member of a high-major Division I coaching staff. 

"(Yoder) has grown a lot in the profession over the past few years and I felt it was a great opportunity for him to take another step in his career," Weber said in a press release announcing the promotions. 

Yoder's starting salary was $35,000 plus benefits, including health insurance. A far cry from the $8,000 he was scheduled to make just a year prior. 

"All the anxiety that I had getting to that point, it finally came off," Yoder said. "Being able to take home a real paycheck, it was amazing." 

Yoder (right) with his parents following K-State's upset of Kansas in 2014.
Yoder (right) with his parents following K-State's upset of Kansas in 2014.Dustin Yoder's Facebook page

Not only did he get a sizable bump in pay, but an old friend took Yoder's place as a graduate assistant. O'Connor, the former fellow manager from Illinois, got the job offer from Weber thanks largely in part to Yoder's recommendation. 

Yoder received a bump in salary after his first year on the job, and he'll now make $41,000 in the 2014-15 season. 

So, What's Next? 

Although Yoder is now part of a Big 12 coaching staff, he's far from having his dream realized. His ultimate goal is to run a college program someday, but he recognizes that he's a long way off from that. 

But being at K-State has allowed Yoder to attend coaching clinics and further extend his contacts in the coaching world. He's hoping, when the time is right, to join one of his connections whenever they take over at a low- or mid-major school and become a Division I assistant. 

"I love it here at K-State," Yoder said. "I love the family environment, they do it so well here and I'm impressed with how Kansas State operates. But, I do want to move on someday soon to keep pursuing my dream."  

The cost of a dream is oftentimes too much to bear for most. Poverty, health issues and uncertainty have plagued Yoder in his pursuit of his childhood goals. 

But they haven't steered him off course. If anything, the obstacles laid in front of him have only deepened his resolve to make his dreams a reality. 

And through it all, he's learned to live in the now, to appreciate what you have and have faith that the opportunities will come. 

"I didn't accomplish playing at the Division I level, but my dream is to coach, and I'm not going to give up," Yoder said. "Don't spend your days thinking about how you'll get to the next spot. It's more about loving every job like it's the only job you got and making sure that you are taking care of the kids that are there." 


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