Minutes have been sparse for junior Jordan Yurth over his career at Western, but his opportunity to play came when Coach Tom Smith felt his team was playing soft mid-way through this season.
It was a road game at Central Oklahoma where the Griffons found themselves down by double digits at halftime. Yurth did his best to motivate the team and contribute with the minutes he got and the team came back and won. He’s been part of the rotation ever since.
“One of the things I talk about is toughness and I feel like Jordan helps us there,” Smith said. “He’s a tough kid that’s willing to take charges and stick his nose in there. His playing time has gone up as he’s gone along.”
Yurth, a 6’4 swingman, was an all-city player in high school out of Lincoln, Neb. If it was playing time that he valued the most, he would have went to one of the NAIA schools that recruited him.
Instead, he was more excited about playing for a hall of fame coach, even if he had to earn every minute he gets.
“I feel like at the NAIA’s, I could have gotten more playing time, but I like Saint Joe and the people here. I like the coaching staff,” Yurth said. “This is a higher level and I knew that coming in. I knew that my opportunities would be harder to get but I looked at it like a challenge.”
According to Smith, it is increasingly rare in this day and age to find a player willing to work hard in practice every day without any guarantee of playing time.
In his experience, most of the time, a player will leave or decide that it’s not worth the daily grind of being a college basketball player with no reward. Yurth has been the exception to that.
“I’ve just always tried to be there for the team off or on the court,” Yurth said. “I practice hard, try to get the guys motivated by me playing hard. This year, it’s nice to get some minutes because I know I can contribute.”
When Smith took over making the substitutions from his assistant coach this year, he remembered Gary Hooper. Hooper’s dad was a star player while his son was less talented.
The father told Smith that he could do what he wanted with his son, but that any kid that can practice with you day in and day out against your team, and you think your team is decent, can certainly play for a few minutes. That’s something that Smith always had in the back of his mind when figuring out his substitution patterns.
Aside from a good-looking jump shot, Smith commends Yurth for always keeping his morale high. He’s had kids who sulk when they don’t see the type of playing time they want, whereas Yurth does the opposite.
“When he doesn’t get minutes, he’s supportive of the people playing,” Smith said. “He’s helping and he’s talking to them and that’s another reason why he needs to be rewarded. Guys sitting there and just caring about themselves don’t need to be rewarded. Jordan needs to be rewarded.”
When Yurth’s opportunities come, he does his best to seize them and is willing to help the Griffons win in any capacity.
“I always feel confident when I go in, whether that’s playing defense or shooting the ball,” Yurth said. “I’m out there to make sure we do the best job possible on the court, to help out rebounding or whatever we need.”
Smith first saw Yurth at a camp where he felt that he had the most potential of any player who wanted to try out. Yurth has shown steady improvement over his years at Western, practicing against some very talented players everyday.
“I feel like what he has done over the last couple of years is he has practiced against enough good players that he’s become a better player,” Smith said.
He might never play 25 minutes per night, but he continues to have a positive impact on the program in many ways.
“I do it just for the love of the game,” Yurth said. “You don’t have to be the best player, but I like being around players and playing the game a lot.”
Yurth is working on a double major at Western in management and marketing. Afterwards, he plans to pursue a master’s degree. He isn’t sure what he will do after that, but his plans displays the same work ethic and selflessness that he’s become known for at Western.