YSU hopes to make jump to national notoriety

YOUNGSTOWN – Wins at George Washington and Georgia last season made a splash for the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team.

It kickstarted the Penguins to one of the most successful seasons in recent memory, going 18-16.

YSU was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament, but turned around and advanced to the second-round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament – hosting both games. Both games were at the Beeghly Center.

Now going 18-16 isn’t glamorous for most NCAA Division I teams, but considering YSU’s recent memory and numerous 20-loss seasons, it makes sense – more like dollars and sense.

The two games were more than victories, it meant money for the YSU program and the athletic department – roughly $65,000 from George Washington and $80,000 from Georgia.

This season, YSU is at Massachusetts (Nov. 17), at Pittsburgh (Dec. 14) and at St. John’s (Dec. 21). The three games mean $220,000 for the Penguins.

“I think we’re a little bit spoiled because last year we won what we call two money games,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “You went to GW and win and went to Georgia and won. St. John’s and Pitt, that’s not GW and Georgia. Obviously, those games we have a challenge ahead of us. UMass probably returns the best team they’ve had since (John) Calipari was there. Obviously, those money games are part of what we do for the university and needs that they have.

“I’ll make it very, very clear. For our league last year, the Georgia win was huge. We’ll do everything we can to represent ourselves and our league the best that we can.”

Horizon League’s Bill Benner, the senior associate commissioner for external affairs, said getting wins against teams like Georgia, GW, Pittsburgh, UMass and St. John’s are vital to push YSU into the Horizon League’s top tier.

“Anytime you can go into those kinds of venues against those kinds of ‘power conference’ teams and bring home a W, that’s something that resonates nationally,” Benner said. “That’s where you get your cred. You have to do it on the floor. If they could go in and knock off one of those or maybe two, that would certainly stamp them. It will also lift the confidence of this program. This program, Jerry and his kids, think they can do it.”

But who will see the Penguins play. The only national exposure YSU is guaranteed to get is the St. John’s game, which is on the new Fox Sports 1. The Penguins aren’t even on ESPNU.

“ESPN, they’re the mothership, and we go back and forth with them,” Benner said. “We started talking about them in April about all of our teams, trying to convince them who was in. They’re looking at Youngstown and thinking, ‘Eh, I’m not quite sure.’ Wright State, we know them. Valpo, we know them. I think the Ws create the exposure. It’s hard to make it the other way around.”

YSU’s Kendrick Perry, who is this year’s Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year, could help vault the Penguins into national exposure, Benner said.

“They’ve had outstanding individual talent, as recently as last year with the two guys that left the team last year,” he said. “Kendrick Perry is recognized as not only one of the top players in the league, but he could be one of the top players nationally. I think they’re perceived as a program that’s bring it up, step by step by step. I think they’re healthy respect that this year might be the year that they make the next big step.”