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USF’s Alexis Yetna faces team that bypassed him

The Bulls' double-double machine played a prep season in the University of Connecticut's back yard.
USF redshirt freshman Alexis Yetna (10) has six double-doubles in 12 games. [USF Athletics]
USF redshirt freshman Alexis Yetna (10) has six double-doubles in 12 games. [USF Athletics]
Published Jan. 2, 2019

By all indications, USF redshirt freshman Alexis Yetna harbors no grudges toward Connecticut, which barely recruited him despite a sparkling prep-school season barely a half-hour from the Huskies campus.

"Maybe I didn't fit with their system," Yetna told Jeff Jacobs of the New Haven (Conn.) Register recently. "Honestly, I was not surprised. I didn't expect them to offer me."

Nonetheless, the France native, who has emerged as one of his team's predominant story lines, has a chance to author a personal one tonight. When the Bulls (10-2) host UConn at the Yuengling Center, USF's resident rebounding dynamo will have a nationally-televised opportunity to show the Huskies what they missed.

With each game, that miss looks more and more like a whiff.

"His knack for the ball, you can't teach that," said Bulls coach Brian Gregory, whose club (10-2) already has equaled its 2017-18 victory total. "And the way we play, our system fits that knack very, very well."

Yetna, whose diverse prep career included a season at Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, enters American Athletic Conference play as the only player in the league averaging a double-double (11.8 ppg, 10.9 rpg).

His 16-point, 16-board effort in Saturday's 60-54 triumph against Fairleigh Dickinson was his sixth double-double in 12 games. He already has earned AAC Freshman of the Week honors twice. As a result, the Bulls rank first in the league in rebounding margin (plus-9.5).

Connecticut (9-4), meantime, ranks ninth at plus-2.8 (albeit against stiffer opposition).

"I feel like I should be the first to get (the ball off the rim)," Yetna said. "It's like a hunt, and the first one to get the prize. It's just like, how bad you want it, and you've just got to be the first one there."

Gregory credits assistant Tom Herrion with discovering Yetna, a raw three-star prospect who spent his only season at Putnam playing in the shadow of current Oklahoma City SG Hamidou Diallo.

"I saw him on film, but I never saw him play a game," Gregory said.

"Coach Herrion did, knew about him and was the lead recruiter on that. And at the same time, Dwayne Stephens, the associate head coach at Michigan State, saw Putnam play during that year. And I checked with him and he said (Yetna) is a Michigan State-type player, and that was good enough for me."

While then-UConn coach Kevin Ollie chased other prospects in the spring of 2017, Gregory and Herrion applied the full-court press on Yetna, selling USF's academic stature (he's currently an honor-roll student) and the potential they saw in his unpolished — but indefatigable — game.

Nearly two years later, the Huskies' oversight is the Bulls' over-achiever.

"We sold him on the fact that, 'As good as you are right now, we're gonna get you better,'" Gregory said. "And when you have a guy that works as hard as he does and wants it as bad as he does, that's a pretty good combination."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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