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McFeely: Bison men pluck point guard from Division III

Luke Yoder comes from Illinois Wesleyan. It might be a sign NDSU coach Dave Richman is taking a different approach to the transfer portal rather than strictly pursuing the most sought-after players.

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Point guard Luke Yoder is transferring from Illinois Wesleyan to join North Dakota State's men's basketball program.
Jimmy Naprstek / Kodiak Creative
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FARGO — North Dakota State's men's basketball team needed a point guard and head coach Dave Richman said late last season the program was likely to dip into the transfer portal to find one. It happened this week.

The source of the Bison's new floor leader might turn some heads among the fan base (and media that covers the team).

Luke Yoder of Illinois Wesleyan posted on social media this week he was transferring to NDSU with two years of eligibility remaining. Illinois Wesleyan is an NCAA Division III school in Bloomington, Ill.

"Out of the schools that reached out to me, it (NDSU) was a really good fit," Yoder told The Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington . "The town, the facilities, the coaches, the players all really stuck out to me. They have a good culture I will fit right into."

Richman cannot comment until Yoder completes his paperwork, but that Yoder dropped the words "fit" and "culture" should be a clue about what the coach likes about the 6-foot, 170-pound guard.

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MBB | Illinois Wesleyan vs Wabash (NCAA Tournament)
Point guard Luke Yoder is transferring from Illinois Wesleyan to North Dakota State.
Jimmy Naprstek/Kodiak Creative

The Bison coach remains old school, even as college athletics decidedly are not. The transfer portal, which allows athletes to switch schools one time without penalty, has bulldozed the landscape. There are nearly 1,700 Division I basketball players in the portal.

The sport has morphed from long-term stability to a transactional free-for-all. The Bison themselves lost seven players to the portal after last season, including four who would've started next season.

Among them was all-Summit League point guard Sam Griesel, who transferred to Nebraska. Griesel's backup Willie Guy, a junior-college transfer, entered the portal. Kolbe Rada is a walk-on. Dezmond McKinney is recovering from a knee injury suffered late last season.

The Bison need a plug-and-play starting point guard to lead the team in the upcoming season. The website "Verbal Commits" said NDSU offered Yoder in mid-April.

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Illinois Wesleyan guard Luke Yoder (4) drives on Wheaton guard Luke Anthony during NCAA Division III tournament action at IWU, Friday, March 11, 2022.
David Proeber / The Pantagraph

Yoder's recruitment, it seems, is Richman trying to maintain some sort of control over the madness by taking a point guard who the coach believes was under-recruited and perhaps has a chip on his shoulder to prove doubters wrong. It's a different approach to the portal than strictly taking the most sought-after players.

It's the way a school like NDSU is forced to recruit high school players and Richman is going that route in the portal.

Yoder told the Pantagraph his only other Division I offer was Western Illinois, also of the Summit League, although he talked with Illinois State and Vanderbilt. Yoder is a Normal, Ill., native who played high school ball in Bloomington-Normal before spending three years at Illinois Wesleyan.

The scouting report on Yoder is that he's a true old-style point guard: tough, hard-nosed, good penetrator, great passer, defensive-minded. He's also said to be unquestionably team-first, low-ego. All that fits Richman's template.

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Point guard Luke Yoder is transferring from Illinois Wesleyan to join North Dakota State's men's basketball program.
Jimmy Naprstek / Kodiak Creative

He can shoot a little. Yoder was 39.3% on 3-pointers last season (35-89) and 48.4% from the floor (122-252). He averaged 11.6 points and 2.9 assists in 2021-22. Over his career, Yoder played in 60 games with 52 starts.

Wesleyan's top player was 6-7 forward Matthew Leritz, who averaged almost 18 points per game. He fed off Yoder's passing. Is there a parallel to be made between Yoder setting up Leritz and now potentially setting up NDSU's 6-11 Grant Nelson?

"I want to play. The most important thing to me was finding a good situation," Yoder told the Pantagraph. "Nothing is given, everything is earned. They’ve got some really good players coming back. It’s a good opportunity for me to compete for playing time."

Wesleyan has historically played at the higher levels of Division III, making the NCAA tournament 26 times since 1984. The Titans won a national championship in 1997 and have been to five Final Fours. They advanced to the national quarterfinals last spring.

The question for Yoder, at least to outsiders, would be whether at 6-foot and 170 pounds he will be able to match up defensively with bigger, stronger guards. Former Bison point guard Vinnie Shahid was only 5-11, but weighed 190 pounds and played a physical game.

Word out of Bloomington-Normal leans toward Yoder being able to play at a Western Illinois or Eastern Illinois right out of high school. And the Leathernecks did offer him this time around.

A Division III player recently starred in the Summit League. Western Illinois forward Will Carius transferred from Monmouth College to the Leathernecks for his final two seasons and made the all-conference second team in his penultimate year. Carius averaged 14.3 points per game last season along with 3.1 rebounds.

"I’m really excited for it. Coming out of high school, I did have some scholarship offers," Yoder told the Pantagraph. "I’m not doubting myself in any way. The past three years really prepared me for this.

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"I’ve developed my game, changed as a player and developed my body. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it will be a really fun experience."

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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