Wright State’s J.T. Yoho was going through severe pain before he underwent knee surgery for a meniscus tear and deep bone bruise midway through last season, but the worst was yet to come.
During his rehab, trainers put him through range-of-motion stretches that made him feel like an MMA fighter caught in a submission hold.
“I thought my knee was going to explode,” he said.
All that discomfort and perseverance has paid off, though. The senior forward has recovered the agility he had last season while leading the Raiders in scoring and rebounding.
“I feel like my old self,” Yoho said. “All my athleticism is back.”
That’s good news for the Raiders, who will need all the manpower they can muster when they visit mighty Kentucky tonight.
The second-ranked Wildcats keep piling up top-ranked recruiting classes and are steeped in talent again under seventh-year coach John Calipari. They won the 2012 national title and have made four trips to the Final Four in the last five years.
But while most believe the Raiders will be doing well if they can just make the game competitive, Yoho isn’t listening to those naysayers.
“You see March Madness, and there’s upsets after upsets,” he said. “Obviously, people are going to say we have no shot. But I think we do have a shot. We have a chance to win every single game.”
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Indiana native certainly is capable of holding his own. The preseason second-team All-Horizon League pick is averaging 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent from the field, including 8-of-13 on 3-pointers.
“He’s got an unbelievable skill set for most teams we play,” Wright State coach Billy Donlon said. “If you put a bigger guy on him, he’s got great skill to make plays. If you put a smaller guy on him, he can post you up in the paint. It’s a matchup problem.”
Kentucky, though, will have an edge in athleticism at virtually every position. Even reigning NCAA champ Duke was overmatched in a 74-63 defeat Tuesday.
“Kentucky has been relentless on defense through their three games,” Donlon said. “They’ve got unbelievable perimeter play. They’ve got great size and shot-blocking ability. And they play with great speed on offense, even in the half-court. If they don’t get anything in transition — where they’re deadly — they’re still really good.”
Donlon said he agreed to the game because of the financial benefit (WSU is getting a $95,000 payout), the recruiting boost that comes with facing top programs and to give his players an experience they’ll never forget.
Yoho certainly is excited about the opportunity.
“We’ve had this game circled since it came out,” he said. “But we can’t come in scared. They put their uniforms on just like we do. We’ve got to play our game. If we get down, we’ve got to keep grinding and play the whole way.”
Calipari is leery of the Raiders’ 3-point shooting. Like Yoho, Mark Alstork (8-for-17) and Grant Benzinger (9-for-18) are threats from beyond the arc.
“They’re going to take 64 or 65 shots and nearly half of them will be 3’s,” Calipari said. “They have three really good 3-point shooters. They’re shooting (47.1) percent from the 3, so you have an idea how they’re going to play. They (sag) their defense. They’re not stretching out. And they play a 2-3 zone, which is exactly what we need to go against. It’s a great game for us. That’s how teams, I believe, will play us.”