Locals contribute to YSU program

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Justin Bofenkamp, left, from John F. Kennedy, and Cameron Kane-Johnson from Niles are part of the Youngstown State basketball program.

YOUNGSTOWN — Cameron Kane-Johnson wore the Westminster College blue uniform proudly for the past couple of seasons.

The Niles McKinley High School all-time leading boys basketball scorer had 30 points as the NCAA Division III team almost upended Youngstown State University last season.

Kane-Johnson was well on his way to cementing his legacy at Westminster, but something was gnawing at his very core. He’s always wanted a shot at being a Division I player, ever since he was Trumbull County’s leading scorer his senior year for the Red Dragons.

YSU’s second-year coach Jerrod Calhoun noticed Kane-Johnson’s performance against the Penguins and gave the Niles native the Division I shot he desired.

The Red Dragons standout will be on the YSU bench for Wednesday’s game against Westminster at the Beeghly Center, starting at 7 p.m. Kane-Johnson, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. He’ll have two years of eligibility for the Penguins.

“Even though I’m not playing, it’s going to be crazy sitting on the other bench watching all the people I played with the last two years,” Kane-Johnson said.

John F. Kennedy graduate and YSU redshirt freshman Justin Bofenkamp, a 6-0 guard, loves the intensity he sees and displays in each and every practice.

“You’re fighting for your minutes every day,” Bofenkamp said. “Every rep you have to go all out. Our practices aren’t set. We’re not just going through walkthroughs, competitive, 100 percent every day. I love that.

“I love Coach Calhoun’s competitiveness in that aspect that we can fight for every thing every day. That’s what me and Cam do, show what Youngstown is all about, the pride, the grit, the hard work. I just give 100 percent every day.”

Kane-Johnson and Bofenkamp are non-scholarship players on the YSU men’s team, a status Calhoun held years ago for the late Rollie Massimino at Cleveland State University.

“I think it’s a win-win for the entire city,” Calhoun said. “I think these two guys have followed Youngstown State basketball for a long time and they take a lot of pride in what they do.

“They are two of our hardest workers. They might be our biggest gym rats. They’re lead-by-example guys.”

YSU assistant coach Jason Slay coaches the Penguins guards. He sees Bofenkamp and fellow redshirt freshman Geoff Hamperian, another non-scholarship player, as two that show up every day to practice and classes, always trying to better themselves.

“They take their role and they really excel at it,” Slay said. “If you watch the bench, they’re constantly up talking. It’s just great. They’re huge pieces of this whole puzzle we have going on right now.”

Kane-Johnson prepares YSU like no other, playing the role of the other team’s point or shooting guard — putting emphasis of getting downhill, attacking gaps and other necessary points.

Slay is working one-on-one with Kane-Johnson, like he did last season with current starting point guard Devin Morgan when he had to sit out due to transfer rules.

“I make him want to crawl out of the gym as far as working on his skill set,” Slay said.

How many minutes Kane-Johnson might see next season, that’s between him and Calhoun.

“As his position coach, I want to put him in the best position possible to do that,” Slay said. “With Cam, I think he can. I think he can hit the ground running next year and be a huge asset to our team.”

Kane-Johnson is thought of as a shoot-first player, something he said is a misnomer.

“All through high school and early in college, they said I didn’t play no defense,” Kane-Johnson said. “I always took it personally. Last few years I’ve really worked on it. A couple of coaches at Westminster really helped me out, helped me develop my athleticism to get into people.”

Bofenkamp’s teammates couldn’t help but cheer for him during the Heidelberg game earlier this month. He got in the game during the last couple of minutes, displaying that hard-nosed play which was a trademark of his at Kennedy.

“We all want the best for each other,” Bofenkamp said. “We don’t have big egos on the team at all. We all just want to win. We want to see the other guy be successful.”

Both Bofenkamp and Kane-Johnson played on the same AAU team in high school.

“It’s bragging rights, being local,” Bofenkamp said. “You’re friends with Niles guys, just going back and forth with your buddies. Once you’re in college representing the area on a larger scale, it’s great to have more local guys on. I’d love to see more local guys.”

Mahoning Valley players can take a lesson from the hard work Kane-Johnson and Bofenkamp have displayed.

“Why sell yourself short?,” Slay said. “Obviously you have to be realistic with yourself. I’m not a believer of selling yourself short. I think if you work, hard work pays off. Those two are the ultimate example of that.”

Fans will be able to see that in Kane-Johnson next season.

“I’m sure he’s going to bring all of Niles with him,” Bofenkamp said. “It’ll be good for the attendance.”