Positives found in difficult road trip

Pocatello, Idaho.

Located in the southeast corner of the state, it was a place where Jerrod Calhoun had not previously visited. The same could be said for the rest of the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team.

The Penguins arrived in town the week before Christmas, jet lagged from their flight in from Youngstown. They found a barbecue restaurant in town.

The team was treated so well during their visit, it left an indelible impression on Calhoun.

“I told our guys, that’s what life is about,” he said. “These people are excited to serve us, to help us with our meal. They left a lasting impression on me that trip.”

The Penguins were road warriors during late November and December. YSU (3-11, 1-0 Horizon League) played at DePaul, Butler, Utah State, Idaho State and Indiana. YSU was paid $365,000 for the five games, plus another $45,000 for three games against Southern Miss, Northern Colorado and South Dakota in the Sanford Pentagon Showcase in South Dakota.

YSU played a demanding non-league schedule and it was evident in Monday’s win at Cleveland State. On Thursday, the Penguins host Milwaukee (8-7, 1-1) at 7:35 p.m., then play at home against Green Bay Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games are nightcaps of women’s and men’s doubleheaders.

“A lot of Youngstown fans haven’t seen it,” Calhoun said about how his team played on Monday at Cleveland State. “Hopefully we’ll be able to carry over Thursday and Saturday.”

The difficult non-conference schedule also will carry over next season. The Penguins are at West Virginia and host Western Michigan. A possible Atlantic Coast Conference team might be on the schedule for next season also, but that’s to be determined.

That said, Calhoun said it’s unfair to his players to be on the road that many days.

“We also have to make some money in the first couple of years to build this thing,” he said. “You can’t skip steps in the process. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”

It was hard to see his first Penguin team go on a nine-game losing streak with the team’s only two wins against non-Division I teams. He saw progress during December, but it never resulted in a victory.

It was difficult for a coach who has known nothing but victories in his playing and coaching career. His attitude projects on his players, and that’s what he wants to convey.

“I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights,” Calhoun said. “I say, ‘Plug away. Plug away.’ Keep getting better. Show them that you care.

“Players respond when you show that you care, not only about them on the court, but off the court. I think a lot of time we’ve spent together on these trips has been good. We’ve done a lot of bonding.”

Sometimes, it takes a good meal to get your perspective.