Penguins’ basketball programs improving

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s a different mindset around Youngstown State these days.

In mid March the Beeghly Center is normally vacant. There might be a random drop of the basketball echoing throughout the venue practicing for the following season.

This week, there are basketball playoff games being played.

Playoffs? How can you talk about playoffs? That’s almost like Jim Mora’s famous rant when he was the Indianapolis Colts coach.

But yes, there are playoff games at the Beeghly Center. In fact, the men’s and women’s team are hosting first-round tournament games this week.

The men hosted Oakland Tuesday in a first-round Tournament game, while the women play Indiana State in the first-round of the WNIT on Thursday.

YSU hasn’t come close to this combined success since well never.

The women had their share of success in the 1990s with three NCAA Tournament appearances and a victory over Memphis in 1998 – part of the school’s best 28-3 team.

This year, third-year coach Bob Boldon brought a resurgence to the once struggling program. It’s been well documented the Penguins were 0-30 in the 2009-10 season and Boldon took over the following year. He’s made slow progress his first two seasons with six wins in year one and 10 in year two.

Then, led by Horizon League Player of the Year and 5-foot-11 senior forward Brandi Brown, YSU emerged as one of the best teams in the league. If a team could get comeback honors, it would be the Penguins.

This year’s 22-9 mark is the best since YSU went to the NCAA Tournament in 1999-2000 season.

Who knows how the Penguins will respond next year. Will Boldon get an offer he can’t refuse and leave as coach?

There’s no replacing a player like Brown, arguably one of the best in school history, but it will be harder to replace a coach like Boldon if he leaves. YSU needs to give him a new and higher paying contract to help this women’s program heading in the right direction.

Thursday, if it’s the last time the YSU women plays there this season, you can see the best the Penguins had to offer in quite some time.

As for the men, it’s been a work in progress for some time. Jerry Slocum, who took over the Penguins’ reign in 2005, had a 14-17 season and first-round. Horizon League victory in his second year. YSU was tied for fourth in the league. It seemed the Penguins were going to finally have some success in the Horizon League.

YSU didn’t get close to that the next four years with a 11-19 mark serving as the best the Penguins could muster.

Last season was the breakthrough year with a 16-15 mark. Would it be a one-year wonder like Slocum’s second year.

This year proved otherwise as YSU was 17-15 coming into Tuesday’s CIT game.

Trust me, nobody was more frustrated than Slocum, who has managed to turn around programs at Nyack (N.Y.), Geneva and Gannon prior to coming to YSU.

He, by far, has one of the hardest jobs in the country. Getting good talent to come to YSU in an area that is football laden is more than difficult. Most of the time, it’s damn near impossible to get people in this area to buy into something that isn’t football.

Slocum has some lean years, but it’s a good thing YSU stayed the course with him. Things are going in the right direction.

The Penguins had their share of injuries this year, but managed to get to the postseason like their women counterparts.

Kudos for YSU for dishing out $35,000 for the CIT game and $6,500 for the WNIT game.

However, the progress is far from done for both programs. In fact, these tournaments are the first step of many great things to come for the Penguins.

It’s nice to see somebody occupying the Beeghly Center in mid-March and a YSU team or two making the postseason.