Many times, when a recruit visits the United States Naval Academy, they leave feeling a real connection.
When Pennridge senior Sean Yoder finished his official visit to Annapolis, he certainly felt it. Playing basketball in college was always his dream, but Navy offered something more, a different type of challenge that resonated with the drive that got Yoder to that point.
The connection was too much to turn down and on Oct. 13, Yoder announced his commitment to join coach Ed DeChellis and the Midshipmen.
“Once I went down there, I really felt comfortable there,” Yoder said. “I was comfortable with the coaches, the players and the community and to me, that was the most important. You can kind of feel it, you know it’s the right place.”
A 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard, Yoder will be entering his third season as a varsity starter this winter. Yoder’s strength lies in his well-rounded game. He doesn’t overwhelmingly excel in one area, but he does a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor and has only gotten better with each passing year.
Yoder had just one offer going into his junior campaign but picked up a lot of recruiting steam throughout the high school season and into AAU ball, where he plays for East Coast Power. Marist, Colgate, High Point, Canisius, New Hampshire, Wagner, Vermont, Furman and Campbell all extended offers to the guard along with Navy.
“Part of my personality is always wanting to be better,” Yoder said. “Whether that be a better athlete, a better person and I knew the Naval Academy could challenge me outside my comfort zone, whether it be preparing to serve in the military, athletically playing in the Patriot League, it’s a challenge but something I’m ready to step up to.”
Longtime Rams boys basketball coach Dean Behrens knew the type of player he was getting after coaching Yoder’s older brother Kyle for two years before Sean arrived.
“It’s well deserved, he’s worked extremely hard to get to this point, I saw glimpses of his talent in seventh grade and everyone throws out ‘Division I’ but I thought this kid has a chance in the right setting,” Behrens said. “With his work ethic, and you never know what it’s going to be like in 11th grade when you see it in 7th grade, it’s never changed and I’m happy for him.”
Last season, Yoder averaged a shade over 16 points per game as he helped Pennridge return to the PIAA tournament before losing to eventual champion Roman Catholic in the Class 6A first round. The guard played his best against some of the team’s biggest competition.
His scoring duel with Neshaminy’s Chris Arcidiacono was a highlight of the early nonleague slate and Yoder was key as the Rams handed Reading a double-overtime loss at the Geigle Complex, a gym the powerhouse rarely loses in. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew Yoder though, especially after a broken collarbone kept him out of a district playoff loss to end his breakout sophomore season.
“His work ethic makes him different and unique because he loves to play the game and get better,” Behrens said. “He’s in tremendous shape, that stuff doesn’t scare him which is why I think the physicality of the Naval Academy won’t be a problem for him. I wish I looked like him, and from a basketball standpoint, he’s just gotten so much better the last three years it’s really unbelievable.
“My job right now is just to enjoy this year and enjoy the abilities he offers.”
It was those type of settings that pushed Yoder to bring out his best.
“I’m a competitive guy, I love to win and I’ll do anything to win or help my team win at all costs,” Yoder said. “That kind of competition elevates my game where I want to be better than them and be the best but I also know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and thinking the game through.”
Yoder stayed patient throughout the recruiting process, knowing that if he continued to work hard, the eyes of college coaches would find him. Always a good passer and finisher at the rim, the now-senior really honed his outside shooting, rebounding and defense during his junior campaign.
More than any of the things he does on the floor, Yoder is proudest of the strides he made as a leader. Outside of himself, senior Jon Post and junior Jake Pestrak, it’s going to be a very new supporting cast for the Rams this winter.
“When other guys can look up to me, whether it’s when they need a leader or when we need a bucket, that’s what I want,” Yoder said. “Ultimately, I need to have confidence in my players to make a play when they feel they can. They have the ability and that’s also part of being a leader and what I’m trying to do.”
Behrens noted that playing at Navy means Yoder won’t have the same kind of time to focus on his craft the way players at other schools may. But, he didn’t think that would slow Yoder down at all and instead just make the guard be even more efficient with his time.
Aside from jokingly chiding Yoder for how long it takes him to get dressed after a game, Behrens said the guard is very organized, punctual and on top of all his responsibilities including school work. He was also adamant that Yoder’s best basketball is ahead of him.
Yoder added that on top of everything, he appreciated that DeChellis was up front and honest with him the entire time and that assistant coach Emmett Davis, who recruited him, left him with an important piece of advice.
“Coach Davis, through his recruitment, he really stressed it’s not about the next four years, it’s about the next 40 years,” Yoder said. “That speaks true to Navy and what the Naval Academy is all about.”