YSU coaches off bench, busy recruiting

YOUNGSTOWN — If the Youngstown State bench has looked a bit empty the past month or so, it’s by necessity.

The men’s basketball coaches have been busy recruiting.

YSU associate head coach Bobby Steinburg has been the team’s road warrior, even heading out west this week.

He has many connections throughout his coaching tenure, sometimes driving instead of flying and staying with friends and family along the way.

It’s about the adventure and destination, not just for Steinburg, but for this YSU program.

“If you don’t have recruiting right in the first 12 to 15 months, you could be fighting an uphill battle for a couple of years,” Steinburg said.

There’s sometimes a conflict when YSU plays, as well as the team’s potential prospects.

That’s why Steinburg and other Penguins coaches have been absent from certain games.

The Penguins seek some players graduating in 2018 and 2019, as well as keeping a watchful eye on the 2020 class.

“The problem with building a program is you’ve got to have eyes on years two and three in those recruiting classes,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “Some of those nights are always when we play. I said I want one guy off to get a jumpstart on all the other schools. We don’t want to miss them.”

MAKING THE PITCH, FIT

There’s few in this business with the enthusiasm of YSU assistant coach Jason Slay.

He’s been known to chest bump players coming off the bench in celebration.

The Beckley, W. Va., native constantly claps and encourages players in warmups in practice.

He uses that same enthusiasm to convince potential recruits why YSU is their ultimate destination.

“As an assistant, I want to sell coach Calhoun,” Slay said. “Coach Calhoun is all about togetherness. He’s all about toughness. He’s all about winning. That’s what we’re going to do here for you.

“We always say this is not a four-year plan, this is a life plan. We always tell these guys we’re going to take care of them on and off the court. We’re going to provide you with all the best assets, all the best attributes that you can have. It’s your job to come here and all we want you to do is work hard, be respectful, go to class, be a student-athlete. Then, I think everything else will take care of itself.”

This YSU staff wants a rim protector, who can shot block, have athleticism and make shots. That could be a small or power forward. Having more 3-point shooters are essential as well.

These recruits have to be hard working, have high motors, love basketball and want to get better every, single day.

However, lots of athletes will tell recruitors that line. Proving they have it is another thing.

Coaches ask specific questions to find out more about them, such as: What inspires them? How do they reach that motor? Do they have a high character?

The last thing YSU wants is someone who doesn’t go to class, resists coaching or is a problem in the Youngstown community.

“We want someone who will represent our community and our university at the very highest level,” Steinburg said.

It takes more than looking at YouTube video highlights to assess a potential recruit.

Talking to coaches, previous coaches, guidance counselors, former teammates helps coaches find out how they carry themselves on and off the floor.

Body language is a big tell-tale sign as well.

Are they diving for the ball? Do they sacrifice for their teammates? And, do their transcripts give them the go-ahead to be eligible? Will this player be a self-starter?

“It’s not a perfect science,” Steinburg said. “Every young man is different. Certain things inspire certain people. Certain things turn them off. Things are happening in their lives. It’s just not basketball and school.”

YSU has signed three for the 2018-19 season.

Atiba Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 176-pound combination guard from Hackensack, N.J., drew interest from places like Syracuse, Connecticut and Kansas State.

Jelani Simmons, a 6-5 wing from Columbus Beechcroft, leads his team as one of the best in Ohio’s Division II.

Darius Quisenberry, a 6-0 point guard, leads another one of Ohio’s best in Huber Heights Wayne, ranked second in the latest Division I state poll.

Slay takes it upon himself to text or talk to these three on a daily basis, and so do other coaches.

They might be playing for their respective high schools, but they are Penguins.

“We try to build a family atmosphere even though they’re not physically on campus yet, but they’re a part of the team just as much as anybody else when they sign those papers,” Slay said.

STILL COACHING

Just because these coaches might be on the road, it doesn’t mean they aren’t involved in the game preparation.

Assistant coach Paul Molinari, who won’t be at Wednesday’s game at Oakland, is out recruiting.

He texts the current players to wish them luck and follows their progress.

Molinari is out evaluating, just like the rest of the staff, trying to find players for Calhoun to evaluate and eventually see for himself.

While he’s on the road, he’s going to do preparation for next Monday’s game at Wright State.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Molinari said. “Our guys understand we’ve got a job to do. They’ve made it easy enough. When you get back, it’s like you never left.”

Sometimes, as much as you prepare, things happen.

Slay went from Utah to Charlotte, N.C., for a couple of days to visit family. He then flew to Texas for some recruiting on Dec. 27-28. He was supposed to leave there and arrive in Bloomington, Ind., about two hours before tipoff of the Dec. 29 game at Indiana.

The flight was cancelled and he was en route for Youngstown, back in time for the Cleveland State game on New Year’s Day.

“That’s a small scenario of what we go through,” Slay said.

These coaches are trying to juggle coaching and recruiting this first season to establish a program.

Steinburg said he and the other coaches want to do their due diligence to make sure Calhoun isn’t going on wild goose chases.

“Getting that Y out there and showing it around the country, trying to attract great people and great athletes to Youngstown,” Steinburg said. “We’re all pulling our weight and doing a pretty good job of that right now. It’s all part of the building blocks.”

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