Coming in at an imposing seven feet tall, sophomore center Yarden Willis is the tallest member of the Binghamton men’s basketball team. He is also the one of the newest, joining the team for its 2019-20 campaign. Willis, who hails from Roswell, Georgia, transferred from Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kansas and officially signed to Binghamton University last spring.
In junior college, Willis averaged 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 32 games, but he always knew that he was going to transfer out, only playing a year of junior college because he didn’t like any of his original offers.
He was noticed by Binghamton at the end of March during the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) junior college national tournament, and when Willis came on his visit to Binghamton, he enjoyed what he saw.
“This court and arena are beautiful,” Willis said. “Not a lot of colleges have this stuff. This is a really, really nice place, a really good facility.”
Willis said Binghamton also resonated with his personal identity.
“I’m Jewish; there’s a lot of Jewish people here, and I like that feeling,” Willis said. “Coming from where I was in Kansas, I was probably the only Jewish person there, so it’s nice to see it and know that I’m welcome here. It really makes me feel at home.”
Before Binghamton and Seward, Willis was a four-year letter-winner for the Weber School in Atlanta where he averaged 12 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in his scholastic career. Even before high school, Willis began playing basketball in a church league when he was 6 years old. Now, Willis has an appreciation for the sport and loves to compete. Before he steps on the court, however, he makes sure to perform his pregame ritual: eating an entire box of plain pasta with salt. Once he’s done this, he’s ready to compete.
“I really, really like being a competitor,” Willis said. “I feel like there’s a lot of different ways you can compete in this world, but I think this is the most thrilling one. For some people it could be getting an A on their test or getting into some type of school here in Binghamton, but when I get on the court, I can prove myself that way.”
Willis may be such a strong competitor because he comes from a basketball family. His dad played professional basketball for 14 years in Israel and Spain, and Willis hopes to follow in his footsteps.
“I’d love to play basketball professionally, if I can, in America; that’d be a blessing, but also in Israel would not be bad at all,” Willis said. “I’d love to go home.”
Before Willis starts thinking professionally, however, he wants to bring as much as he can to a team with 10 new players.
“I’m an everyday person,” Willis said. “I never have a day where I’m not gonna bring as much effort as I have. I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to affect the effort that I bring to the table regardless of whether we’re losing or winning. I’m there every day.”
With a very new team, Willis seems to think that everyone on the team is getting along well thus far, and said he is especially close with freshmen Dan Petcash and George Tinsley.
“We’ve become really close,” Willis said. “We’ve been through a lot as a team already, and we really value one another. We’re almost like brothers or siblings. You get into fights with your siblings, but it’s never anything that’s prolonged. We’re always here for each other. We all care about each other.”
While there is already camaraderie among the team, Willis is hoping to have a personal connection with the student body.
“Approach me if you have any questions, I’d love to talk about our team,” Willis said. “I want everyone on campus to be excited about basketball as much as all of us are. We’re not these intimidating guys. I want people to feel like we’re part of this community and campus. We want everybody at the games.”