PORTLAND, Ore. — Any player will tell you the road to the Final Four is a long and winding one. For Arizona's Bendu Yeaney, that road passed right through St. Mary's Academy in downtown Portland.
"She was larger than life even as a freshman," said St. Mary's Academy athletic director Anna Maria Lopez. "She had this personality that you always knew when Bendu was around."
Lopez said Yeaney, a 2017 graduate, was an impact players on the St. Mary's Academy basketball team as a freshman. Lopez is not surprised Yeaney is playing a major role on Arizona's Final Four team.
"We love it and I don't know many who aren't following her internally at St. Mary's and obviously cheering her on and want to see her, the inside story of her going up against Evina Westbrook again," Lopez said.
Westbrook, from South Salem High School, is playing for UConn in the Final Four.
Cameron Brink, who played at Southridge and Mountainside high schools in Beaverton, is a forward for Stanford and playing in the Final Four.
"I'm just tickled pink for her," said Mountainside High School coach Glen Lee. "I think it's awesome she's getting this opportunity and on the biggest stage obviously."
There are plenty of Oregonians playing in the men's Final Four, too. They all happen to suit up for Gonzaga.
Will Graves is from South Eugene High School. Ben Gregg played at Clackamas. Evan Inglesby played at Barlow. And Matthew Lang balled for Jesuit.
KGW's sister station in Spokane caught up with Lang's parents at the Final Four in Indianapolis. They have not been able to hug their son due to COVID protocols.
"I think it's a grind for the boys," said Lang's father. "It's kind of unfortunate. Being six to 10 feet away, like we just were, is the closest we've been to him in a month but I think if they keep going it'll be worth it."
Students and staff at St. Mary's Academy certainly hope Arizona keeps going. That will allow Yeaney to add a national championship to her resume.
"It would be awesome to see her and her teammates be successful," Lopez said.
The women's semifinal games tip off Friday evening in Texas. The men's semifinal games tip off Saturday in Indiana.