YSU shows full-court press in recruiting

The hazy fog percolates through my head, attempting to shed the three-plus hours of intermittent sleep. A clear, plastic cup with a blue straw protruding through a transparent lid taunts me. A couple of drops of a 99-cent French Vanilla iced coffee is all that remains. The final sips of a now warmed liquid can’t give me the mental lift I need.

Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun has a large, white Styrofoam Dunkin Donuts coffee cup in his hand. He takes a few quick drinks. He too knows the struggle is all too real.

Calhoun presses on, the caffeine fix only enhances what he must do — recruit.

The YSU coach and his staff have been working tireless hours trying to revamp a dormant men’s basketball program, which hasn’t been consistently vibrant since the mid-1980s when Mike Rice Sr. coached the Penguins. YSU came within a couple points of winning the Ohio Valley Conference title once during his five-season stint as coach and almost headed to the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Who could forget legendary coach Dom Rosselli, whose namesake dons the Beeghly Center court? The former YSU coach led the Penguins to 22-7 records twice in the 1970s when YSU was an NCAA Division II school.

Spurts of greatness tried to shine through in the 30-plus years after the Rice era. There was the Mid-Continent Conference championship game appearance in the 1997-98 season; a 19-11 campaign in 2000-01 (last year of YSU in the MCC); the 2012-13 season when the Penguins made it to the pay-to-play CollegeInvitational.com Tournament where YSU had to shell out, through a major sponsor, a $70,000 fee to host two home games.

There have been plenty of 20-loss seasons and apathy spreading rapidly through a once-loyal YSU fan base.

Calhoun and his staff have set out to change that mindset. Keeping the promises he set forth since he took the job in late March, doing a much better job than most politicians. Getting out in the community, especially service projects at the Youngstown-area Boys and Girls Club, with his current roster of players. Supporting all of the Penguins’ teams through social media. Recruiting his returning players, six of whom stayed.

So far, YSU has 10 new players coming in next season — two of whom are walk-ons. The Penguins have 13 scholarship players and three walk-ons on the roster.

You can say the caffeine has been flowing throughout not only Calhoun’s body but those of his assistants who have researched through many means to find players who fit this new system.

Lorain native and 6-foot-6 forward Naz Bohannon was a highly-recruited defensive end, good enough that Michigan State, Iowa State, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh offered the young man football scholarships. He also said no to basketball offers from Kent State, New Mexico, Indiana State, Cincinnati and Green Bay, among others, in favor of YSU.

Did I mention he has a 3.93 GPA and graduates from Lorain with an associate’s degree from Lorain Community College? He plans to major in mechanical or chemical engineering.

Speaking of academically gifted, so is St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) graduate Michael Akuchie, who has a 4.2 GPA. The 6-8 forward wants to major in business.

Then there’s former Delaware State guard Devin Morgan. The point guard has to sit out this season because of transfer rules but has two years remaining, starting in 2018-19. He was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year and led Delaware State with 14.7 points per game. It’s unusual that someone transferring from a MEAC school, especially with Morgan’s credentials, would come to YSU. Take former Warren G. Harding standout RaShid Gaston. He spent three years at Norfolk State before transferring to Xavier.

Recently, the Penguins recruited a three-star athlete in Tyree Robinson, a 6-5, 220-pound forward who played at Odessa (Texas) Junior College the last two seasons. He, like the two other junior college transfers, have two years remaining at YSU.

Robinson, a Fall River, Mass., native, could be the biggest get for YSU as far as a junior college player goes. He picked YSU over New Mexico State, New Mexico, North Texas, Colorado State, Illinois State and Iowa State.

Really? Yes, really.

“I’m ecstatic about the recruiting class,” Calhoun said. “We have size. We have length. We have athleticism. We have skill. We have guys that can play our style of basketball.

“From the managers to the top, this was a Youngstown State effort.”

Calhoun’s teams at Fairmont State ran an up-tempo offense and defense, which is a hybrid of what West Virginia runs under Bob Huggins, one of Calhoun’s mentors and close confidants.

Welcome to the Pressing Penguins.

This YSU staff has consumed their fair share of caffeine and stayed on task, giving their own full-court press when it comes to recruiting.

“Recruiting, just like shaving, you’ve got to do it every day or you’re going to get sloppy,” Calhoun said. “We’ve got to do something every day with our recruiting.”