YSU fans can forget dismal past

YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun has taken hold of the dark past of Youngstown State men’s basketball and wants to turn his back on that chapter.

The 35-year-old coach has his own take of YSU’s struggles which include 20 or more losses in 11 of the past 16 seasons.

Depression around the Penguins’ program has lingered more than the stench of a dead skunk. In only three seasons has YSU had 18 or more wins since 1985.

If Calhoun was Italian, he might say, “Forget about it.” The new YSU coach is doing just that the first week on the job. He’s not saying this team has a three- to five-year plan. Calhoun wants to win now.

YSU was 13-21 last season, but the Penguins advanced to the Horizon League semifinals. It was the first time since the 1998-99 season YSU had advanced that far in a league postseason tournament. That year, it was the fourth-seeded Penguins going on in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament.

YSU beat top-seeded Oakland in early March at Detroit. A well-timed pass to an open Jorden Kaufman for the game-winner was played over and over on ESPN and social media until the Penguins were eliminated by eventual Horizon League champion Northern Kentucky in the semifinals.

It gnaws at players like soon-to-be senior guards Francisco Santiago and Cameron Morse — the best returning backcourt in the Horizon League.

Jerry Slocum retired a day after YSU lost to the Norse. Calhoun’s name soon arose as a candidate, among others.

As soon as his Fairmont State team lost in the NCAA Division II title game, reports came out he was heading to YSU. On March 28, he was officially announced.

Since then, Calhoun re-energized a team seemingly depressed during the latter part of the regular season with hope — feeding off of that Horizon League postseason momentum.

He’s talked about a winning culture. He’s mentioned a Horizon League Championship and the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

He’s said he and his team are going to be visible in the community — much more than this men’s program has ever been.

He’s bringing fans — including family 46 minutes away in East Liverpool. That means the plethora of empty red chairback seats and bleachers is going to shrink. People around the YSU program are visibly happier.

Calhoun is even closer to his son, Jordan, who is part of the Villa Angela-St. Joseph Division III state championship team. There are connections in Cleveland, and even in West Virginia.

“They’re going to buy tickets,” Calhoun said. “They’re going to be loud. Sometimes they might be obnoxious. In all seriousness, it’s great to have your family behind you, closer to my son. I’m an hour from him now. Hopefully I can take some of those relationships I had in West Virginia and get those people up here to support the Penguins.

“It’s a really special time for me and my family.”

Let’s see how this plays out in the coming months as the Penguins and Calhoun entrench themselves in this community — becoming the face of Youngstown.

For the first time in a LONG time, I can’t wait for the start of another YSU basketball season.

I sincerely hope this new regime makes Penguin fans forget about the dismal past because the good people of the Mahoning Valley deserve so much more than a poorly-coached program.