Penguins continue development through scrimmages

YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun doesn’t like the word can’t.

Most type-A personalities despise the contraction to its core.

So, building a culture, a new way of play, and breaking the bonds of perpetual losing isn’t anything like snapping fingers and magically it appears.

He, his staff, and his team are driving to present the Youngstown State men’s basketball team to the Mahoning Valley community in a new and exciting light.

Sometimes things don’t happen as fast as people like Calhoun want.

“I expect a lot, but sometimes my expectations aren’t met,” he said. “My wife (Sarah) reminded me late last night, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ You want everything right now. That’s not how it’s going to happen.

“Step by step, I think they understand it’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster.”

Constant practice and repetition. That takes place during scrimmages. YSU recently faced an experienced Niagara team in a closed scrimmage. Taking too many 3-pointers and being indecisive between shooting the long-range jumper or driving is something the Penguins have to improve.

“I don’t think we played up to our expectations,” Calhoun said. “I thought the team we played came in with a little chip on their shoulder. Sometimes when you’re not ready to go, you get a little bit of humble pie. I told our guys that’s why you play scrimmages in October to get ready for November.”

Today, they travel to Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, a team seen as one of the best in the Summit League.

The Penguins had plenty of fouls against Niagara, but Calhoun expects that with a new system.

“We’ve got to clean that up,” he said.

Calhoun recently heard LeBron James talk about the Cavaliers’ struggles on transition defense. It’s something YSU can improve upon.

“The Cavs are a really bad defensive team on the transition side of the ball,” Calhoun said. “I think that’s where we’re at right now. We probably gave up 40 or 50 points in transition. That’s unheard of. It’s also early and you’re playing young kids that aren’t used to the speed of the game, guys pushing the ball.”

He’s hoping the team keeps progressing from each scrimmage into a team which is developing daily.

“I think our kids are starting to develop championship habits,” Calhoun said. “The best teams don’t waste days. The best teams prepare every day like it was their last.

“I think these guys are slowly picking up our style, picking up the pace.”

How these YSU players approach the contests are of concern to senior guard Cameron Morse. He added that the Penguins players need more reps.

“Need to work on playing basketball, playing free,” he said. “Sometimes we’re like robots. We just need to play basketball, play free like we played in high school, like we play in the park.

“I’ve adjusted with understanding the system.”

There’s about a half-dozen players who have experienced Division I basketball. The rest come from junior colleges and high school settings.

“This is why these scrimmages are so meaningful,” YSU senior guard Francisco Santiago said. “We need these new guys to get their feet wet, see that the games are going to get real. This isn’t junior college. This isn’t high school. This is the real deal. We need everyone to get on board and get with it.”

Eventually, Calhoun’s vision for a winner at YSU will become a reality.

“The Mahoning Valley is dying for a basketball winner,” he said. “What you want out of your basketball program is consistency. You have to consistently win. You have to consistently do things on and off the court. You have to get out in the community. People have to see. We’ve concentrated on that and got out to every possible event we could, not only myself, but the staff and players.

“I think we should get some sellouts.”