August 16, 2022

Return to glory

Mount Ayr native Drew Yoder literally had a front-row seat in recently earning his fourth NBA championship ring as a member of the Golden State Warriors staff.

Yoder, 36, joined the Warriors in 2013 as an assistant athletic trainer. He had served an internship with the Dallas Mavericks and was recommended for an opening on the Warriors staff. He was on duty for three NBA titles won by the Warriors in five straight appearances in the NBA finals from 2015-19.

However, injuries and roster changes led to two straight seasons of falling short of the playoffs. Yoder, now the team’s director of medical services who supervises three assistant trainers, said the rise to the top again this year was especially satisfying because it required an internal rebuild.

NBA Finals MVP Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson remained the hub of the team’s success just as in the first three titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018. But, each of them had to overcome injuries before or during the 2021-22 season, and a cast of young players and new additions shined in their roles, Yoder said.

“We lost KD (Kevin Durant) to free agency and Klay Thompson was out from the end of that (2019) season until halfway through this past season,” Yoder said. “We won 15 games in the shortened 2020 season, and lost our play-in games to miss the playoffs again last year. This championship is a great story, considering where we came from. People thought our run was done. When you have competitors like Steph, Klay and Draymond, they want it so bad. The hunger doesn’t change. We knew if we got healthy we’d always have a shot with this group.”

Health of the players is where Yoder provides his primary service to the team. But, on game day he’s seated on the front row of the team’s bench, logging timeouts used and individual players’ foul situations for head coach Steve Kerr. All the while, he’s ready to bolt from that seat with easy access to the court should anything happen to any of the Golden State players.

“I oversee our guys with everything medical-related,” Yoder said. “Three people report to me in that area, and we work together with a (coaching) staff of about nine people to meet every morning and share information. It’s really been a dream come true to work in the NBA. I just love the intensity and the pressure of the situation. We provide care for these guys and we’re with them for hours each day, so you see the commitment that it takes to reach the pinnacle. We all share in the excitement of the championship.”

Playoff run

Seeded third in the NBA Western Conference, the Warriors had an impressive playoff run, never facing an elimination game on the way to the title. Golden State defeated The Denver Nuggets 4-1 in their first seven-game series, then moved past the Memphis Grizzlies 4-1 and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1 before finishing the championship over the Boston Celtics, 4-2.

The championship was earned on the road, ending in a 103-90 clinching win in game six at TD Garden in Boston on June 16. It was a different feeling than winning in front of the team’s fans at home, but a joyous night nonetheless.

“Three of our titles have been won on the road, and it’s still an incredible feeling,” Yoder said. “It’s just our traveling party, the group that grinds through the entire year together. We celebrated together in the lockerroom and nobody was in a hurry to leave. We rented out a club next to the arena and had a huge party until about 5 a.m. Then we boarded the plane at about noon for the six-hour flight back home.”

The team’s first championship parade was held in San Francisco, since the team moved into the Chase Center two years ago after previously playing at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. The parade held one week ago today drew a crowd estimated at 800,000 as the team went the length of Market Street in buses and private vehicles.

Yoder was joined in his parade car by wife Cora and 18-month-old daughter Cora.

“The parade was a great experience,” Yoder said. “It was a great crowd. It was like having a second celebration with all of our fans. It got a little long for our daughter. We were probably riding for an hour and a half.”

Injury comebacks

Yoder said it was fun celebrating with players who had worked with him to overcome injuries. Thompson was out of action for 941 days with a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the spring of 2019 and November 2020 as he was training to return from the knee injury.

Curry missed some time late in the season with a sprained foot and had a slight recurrence in the playoffs. Green, likewise, pushed through some lower back issues near the start of the playoffs.

“We played a total of 105 games. In the last two months in the playoffs these guys are going through the most physical basketball played in the world,” Yoder said. “There’s not a player on the court who wasn’t dealing with something physically. For our job, it’s just a matter of doing your best to have them healthy and ready when it matters most, in the playoffs.”

Yoder’s brother, Brandon, is an athletic trainer with Marquette University. They get to see each other when the Warriors are playing the Bucks in Milwaukee. They are the sons of Brett and Debbie Yoder of Mount Ayr.

Last week the staff was involved in the NBA Draft and Yoder has a connection with the new head coach of former Iowa star Keegan Murray, selected No. 4 in the draft by the Sacremento Kings. Mike Brown, who has been an assistant for Kerr on the Warriors’ staff in recent years, is the new Kings coach.

“I sat next to Mike Brown for five years and he’s such an intelligent basketball mind,” Yoder said. “He knows how to connect with anyone.”

Now that the playoffs and draft are completed, that doesn’t necessarily mean idle time for Yoder and his staff. They are involved in the team’s NBA Summer League activity in Las Vegas, where young players on the roster and prospects play in July. Later in the summer he’ll have some vacation time.

“We don’t get back to Mount Ayr every year, but this year we’re hoping to make it back in early August.”

Then, as the fall approaches, the quest for another NBA title begins.

“We have some possible free agent departures, but as long as we have our main core of guys, I’ll always believe we have a good chance,” Yoder said.

Larry Peterson

LARRY PETERSON

Former senior feature writer at Creston News Advertiser and columnist. Previous positions include sports editor for many years and assistant editor. Also a middle school basketball coach in Creston.