This season more than about numbers for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State is 6-17. The Penguins are 5-2 at home. They are 1-11 away from the Beeghly Center and 0-4 at neutral sites.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah.

The numbers are missing the bigger picture within the YSU men’s basketball program. Don’t get stuck on the numbers even though everything is negatively magnified with 17 losses.

It’s a process, one that won’t happen overnight.

What are these players learning this season? How to overcome adversity. It’s not only a lesson learned on the court, but one that serves you throughout your life. Life isn’t fair. It’s how you deal with it that makes you a stronger person.

That’s what YSU is dealing with right now, how to change the culture of a program used to dealing with losing seasons.

The Penguins broke a long non-conference losing streak to open with three straight Horizon League wins. How did this team deal with success? Losing six of its next seven.

Saying this team could persevere in its next eight games is an overused term. The question should be: How is this team getting better every day? That goes a long way to showing growth.

A couple of friends of mine sat behind me during a loss against Illinois-Chicago. It was a different look than what he and his son saw from Youngstown in the past. This year’s team is playing a different type of basketball, a more rugged brand in which the Penguins are crashing the offensive boards and showing, at times, an up-tempo offense and defense that will eventually be the norm for this program.

They said it was an aggressive, enjoyable style of basketball to watch. Normally, they would’ve left by halftime, but they stuck around for the entire game.

It’s part of the growth of this team.

Garrett Covington is arguably the team’s defensive leader. Naz Bohannon is beastly as a rebounder, being the first YSU freshman to notch three double-doubles in one season. They are freshmen, and shining stars in this recruiting class.

They’ve added at least 10 games to what they’re used to playing. Mental and physical fatigue is bound to set in. Natural progression. Other players new to this team are trying to figure out the same things, how to be mentally and physically stronger in a longer season.

In a sense, so are the coaches.

YSU first-year coach Jerrod Calhoun has known one thing in his career, winning. It’s been a rough go so far. Losing a what would have been a three-year starting point guard in Francisco Santiago to a season-ending injury is one of many things this coaching staff had to overcome.

They want the players to buy in to what they’re coaching, but it’s a hard sell when the losses are mounting up. It goes back to getting better every day, following the process. It’ll eventually get better.

The Penguins had to get away from their full-court press and up-tempo game this season, throw in some zone, half-court sets and occasionally provide pressure on defense and run-and-gun on offense.

The offseason conditioning is going to be vital for this program heading into 2018-19, when YSU adds more new faces to its program and tries to fully implement Calhoun’s style of play.

He has been out the past two Sundays and Mondays recruiting, following up on some leads his assistants have seen in the past month and a half.

For now, it’s following the scouting report for tonight’s game against Horizon League Tournament champion Northern Kentucky and Saturday’s game against Wright State. That’s the top two teams in the league coming to Youngstown this week.

If you’re YSU players, you want to A, follow the scouting report; B, follow the scouting report; and finally, C, follow the scouting report. Did I mention YSU should follow the scouting report?

This Penguins team is close defensively, but it is very hit or miss on the offensive end. They haven’t figured out how to get themselves out of scoring droughts with defense. Eventually, that will happen.

Now, it’s getting Braun Hartfield and Cameron Morse, the team’s top two scorers, going offensively, by any means necessary.

How will YSU, a team which is 4-6 in the Horizon League, show growth in its last eight regular-season games? Can they take more steps to change the team’s culture and become a team that can play stronger in the final 8 minutes of games?

It’s about culture. It’s about getting better every day. It’s about the team’s grit.

After all, this year is more than the numbers.

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