Santiago clear to play in Penguins opener

YOUNGSTOWN — Francisco Santiago looked up at the scoreboard inside the former Joe Louis Arena.

He saw Northern Kentucky walk away with a Horizon League semifinal victory, then eventually to the NCAA Tournament after capturing the league tournament.

All the Cleveland native wanted was another opportunity, for Youngstown State men’s basketball to return.

Saturday, he’ll get his wish. The season starts at the University of Akron as Kent State plays YSU in the nightcap of the Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Doubleheader, beginning at 9 p.m. Cleveland State and Akron play the first game.

Santiago suffered a bruised, hyper-extended knee during the offseason. YSU trainer Todd Burkey has been with the 6-foot-1, 160-pound senior, helping his progress.

The YSU senior point guard has a black harden brace he’ll sport for the remainder of the season. He’s back to full practices and is ready to go for Saturday’s opener. In what capacity, that’s yet to be seen.

“Whatever they feel is best for the team,” Santiago said. “The way I’ve been play, the way I’ve been moving, I feel I can go into a starting role and not skip a beat. If they feel it’s best I come off the bench, that’s what I’ll do.”

Calhoun knows what Santiago means to this team. His floor presence and hustle is immeasurable.

The YSU senior finally got back to full strength in the past week or so.

Sophomore Jeremiah Ferguson, along with seniors Jaylen Benton and Cameron Morse are mainstays in the backcourt as well with Santiago.

“Santiago not being healthy has hurt this team,” Calhoun said. “This young man has given everything he’s got, not only to our basketball team, but this university. Just speaks volumes when you’re hurt, playing through pain.

“I haven’t seen this courageous effort in some time. He changes things when he’s on the floor because he’s got a lot of equity built up. He’s played in big games. He knows what we want done.

“Unfortunately, we can’t play a lot of minutes right now. He is progressing pretty well.”