Rome (YSU) won’t be built in a day

AKRON — Youngstown State’s team couldn’t even move about in a cramped locker room inside the James A. Rhodes Arena.

The men’s basketball team took to the adjoining hallway to get some last-minute stretching in, jump a few raised hurdles no bigger than a foot off the ground.

Some spent the time reflecting, having a their Beats headphones enveloping their heads as the music was used as a motivator.

Tyree Robinson, a junior college player in Odessa, Texas, for the past two seasons, pounded his chest a few times as he sat down in the hallway at the University of Akron arena.

Coach Jerrod Calhoun had that nervous energy, walking around trying to make sense of what was to be — his first leadership of a regular-season NCAA Division I game. Not as director of basketball operations as he did at West Virginia. Not as a Division II coach at nearby Fairmont State.

It was his — all his.

They entered the southwest entrance, catching the final minutes of a slower-paced Akron vs. Cleveland State game as both teams were under the leadership of two new head coaches, just like YSU.

Senior Francisco Santiago, who wears a protective knee brace because of hyperextention in the offseason, was throwing some well-meaning rabbit punches on the chest of the 6-foot-6 massive frame of freshman Naz Bohannon, a player with much promise in this system.

Tipoff. YSU quickly gained possession and fed the ball to Robinson, a great offensive presence in the team’s practices, and slammed a two-handed dunk in front of the Kent State student section and the nearby Golden Flashes bench.

It was a great start for YSU, which was playing the nightcap of Saturday’s Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Doubleheader, a tip schedule for 9 p.m. It started 45 minutes later in front of a sparse gathering that had a decent smattering of Penguin fans making the one-hour trip from Youngstown.

The first 18 minutes were productive as YSU even held leads during that time.

No Penguin player had an answer for KSU 7-foot junior giant Adonis De La Rosa, who was much more productive than last season. The combination of him and guard Jaylin Walker accounted for 40 of the team’s points. Six players in double figures as the Golden Flashes surged ahead in the final two minutes of the first half for a five-point lead.

The Penguins threw numerous combinations of post players at De La Rosa, but the KSU big man kept discarding each as YSU racked up more fouls than rebounds at one point in the first half. Two fouls and out for a couple of the undersized Penguin posts.

KSU asserted itself in the first couple of minutes of the second half and started to pull away with a double-figure lead.

It was mesmorizing to watch this team, which showed so much promise but couldn’t get things in tune during a regular-season game.

What the heck was I watching?

This was against the best the Mid-American Conference has to offer, but the defense was atrocious — giving up 111 by game’s end for a team that still has Butler, DePaul, Utah State and Indiana on its schedule next month.

Frustration set in, and so did exhaustion.

Calhoun did have a sense this could happen. He saw the atrocious play as Niagara ripped YSU apart by about the same amount in a scrimmage a couple of weeks ago.

I can only imagine the amount of sprints this team does during this afternoon’s practice. The endurance needs to improve for this team to execute a full-court offense and pressing defense — a complex system that demands the right type of athletes to run it. This team needs some toughness though.

YSU has a few of the right athletes, but it’s going to take more than a few to run this offense well. One of the few is constricted by a knee brace in Santiago. Jeremiah Ferguson, who is another one, had his nose broke during a play in the first half. He didn’t return, but said after the game he’ll be OK.

Calhoun quickly walked off the floor, dismayed at the result. He’s used to winning, not this. Penguins fans are used to disappointment, something that’s been the better part of three decades. It’s not as bad as that poser NFL team located in Cleveland, which for the life of me I don’t understand how fans still follow. Seriously, fantasy football is less stressful and there’s a chance of you seeing a winner or being one. No wonder some people in northeast Ohio are perpetually miserable.

Most of the YSU fans exited before the final 20 minutes ran out, wondering why they made the trip to Akron. I had the same thoughts.

Calhoun, his staff and players are trying to change the culture on and off the court, but it’s going to take time — something most YSU fans rather not hear after being fed months worth of optimism.

As Jerrod was chastising his team for their poor play on Saturday, the lights went out in that tiny locker room. Like an LED light, YSU’s season is gradually getting brighter. There’s about 75 percent of this roster who are playing their first NCAA Division I games this season.

YSU might be 3-10 before its first Horizon League game. That’s how long the lights might take to come on for this team to grasp the concept of this offense and defense. It’s not basic fundamentals. There’s a lot of complex parts.

Calhoun is used to winning, while YSU fans are not. This fan base, unlike the Browns, could actually see winning results this year or the next.

Calhoun said after the game Rome wasn’t built in a day, something his wife, Sarah, has told her husband numerous times.

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