Despite suspicion to the contrary, guard Kris Yanku remains a member of Northern Arizona’s basketball team.
Whether that means he will return to the team for his senior year next season remains a question.
Yanku, the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 points per game in 28 contests, was quietly sent home following Northern Arizona’s regular-season finale at Sacramento State. The team, which took a bus for the 130-mile trip from Sacramento, Calif., to the tournament, was without Yanku while in Reno, Nev.
Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy called the absence for conduct detrimental to the team and unrelated to any academic or legal issues during his postgame interview on NAU’s radio station, 106.1 FM. Murphy added in the interview that he considered Yanku a great kid, but one who lets his emotions get the best of him at times, a sentiment he echoed to reporters gathered in the media room minutes later.
While Yanku’s surprise suspension caught most of those in Reno off-guard, he was not kicked off the team and no flight was rerouted to remove him, contrary to rumors that began to swirl during the game.
Murphy said he and Yanku plan to sit down in the coming weeks to discuss the latter’s future as a Lumberjack.
“It may happen this week. I am not going directly back to Flagstaff, so it may happen this week,” Murphy said. “With next week being spring break, it’ll happen at some point this month or in these next couple weeks for sure.”
While the future remains unclear, Murphy made the present known.
“No long-term decisions have been made at all,” the Lumberjacks coach said.
Struggling with the disappointing season — Northern Arizona’s 5-25 record tied the program’s most losses in history — Yanku admitted his disappointment just three weeks ago.
“Throughout the season, Coach Murphy has been trying to get me to stay positive, understand it is a process and we have to think about the long run,” Yanku said at the time. “That’s been difficult for me, just being such a competitor, at times this season. I can admit to everyone my attitude has been bad a couple of times just with the frustration and all.”
After coming off the bench for a four-week stretch, Yanku started the finale against Sacramento State. However, the junior failed to score in the game while playing 24 minutes, the first time since Dec. 21, 2014 at Hampton that Yanku had failed to score in a game.
The disappointing result came just two days after Yanku’s best performance of the season against Portland State, scoring a career-high 32 points with his best offensive rating, 137, against a Division I opponent this season. The guard scored 11 points in the final 2:16 as the Lumberjacks pressed the Vikings late after trailing by 27 points.
A season after earning a spot on the Big Sky’s all-conference first team and leading the nation in made free throws as a sophomore, Yanku’s performance was mixed as a junior. Having bettered his shooting percentage, steal percentage, rebound percentage and turnover rate, Yanku’s offensive rating still fell as he failed to replicate his free-throw rate. Averaging 7.8 free-throw attempts per game last season, the total fell to 7.0 this year.
Additionally, Yanku’s frustration became visible to those watching the games this season. He also addressed his emotions weeks earlier.
“I am at a point where I need to be a leader. I have been here for three years now and the coaches trust me, they believe in me,” Yanku said. “I have let them down a couple times this year with my attitude and my leadership. Throughout the season, with the highs and lows, I just need to continue to stay positive.”
The junior’s absence was felt by Northern Arizona Tuesday, as they committed 17 turnovers in their first-round exit from the Big Sky Conference tournament at the hands of Eastern Washington.
“The turnovers are what really killed us,” Murphy said after the game. “They weren’t just turnovers, they were live-ball turnovers that led to transitions baskets on their end. You just can’t have that, especially in the postseason.”
True freshmen Mike Green and Marcus DeBerry were pulled into ball-handling situations, with Green ending the game at five turnovers and DeBerry with four.
“It was tough, at the half they both had three turnovers and that kind of just set the tone for our team,” Murphy said. “We had some guys that were handling the ball more than they are used to and they turned it over. I was still proud of how they competed and I was really proud of how Mike and Marcus defended and rebounded.”