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Passing grade

Tribune Chronicle file photo / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Darius Quisenberry, shown here in a game last season, tested the NBA waters before choosing to return to school.

YOUNGSTOWN — Feedback. That’s what Darius Quisenberry craved when he declared for the NBA Draft on April 2.

The NBA Combine and individual team tryouts weren’t possible because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday evening, Quisenberry stated he’s coming back to YSU for his junior season. The 6-foot-1 guard wanted to answer those nagging questions of if he was coming back for the 2020-21 season, transferring or staying in the NBA Draft.

He’s focused on his return, but he is wiser from the input he received from the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets.

Each team watched his game films from last season and had Zoom chats with Quisenberry.

It was an interview with the Celtics that the YSU junior said boosted him to want to work and improve himself.

All five teams gave him great feedback, but that one from the Celtics was very constructive and motivating.

“That one made me wake up the next morning and run 2 miles,” Quisenberry said.

The Celtics are coached by former Butler University coach Brad Stevens, whose team was in the Horizon League with YSU when the Bulldogs went to back-to-back NCAA national championship games. Boston assistant Joe Mazzulla coached with YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun at Fairmont State.

Gordon Hayward (Butler), Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State), Stephen Curry (Davidson), Paul George (Fresno State), Damian Lillard (Weber State), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) and Ja Morant (Murray State) are some of the former mid-major players who rose up the NBA ranks.

The best advice he received is to keep working.

“The league told me they’ll find you wherever you’re at,” Quisenberry said. “If you can play, you can play. Now they’re saying there’s not a difference between high major and mid major with basketball players, especially guards. If you know how to play basketball, they’re going find you where you’re at.”

Calhoun, who has stayed in contact with Quisenberry throughout this process, said he’s looking forward to seeing his junior guard’s improvement.

Calhoun, who was a former West Virginia University assistant coach, knows the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee make players better.

Quisenberry realized how competitive this process is as players not only around the United States but the world are vying for a few spots on each NBA team.

“There’s just great players at every level,” Calhoun said. “I think what he learned is more and more mid-major players are staying in the NBA. He’s now on NBA radars. People know who he is. I think he learned a lot.”

Quisenberry was told he wasn’t ready for the NBA level, but he could get there one day.

He averaged about 17 points and shot 31 percent from 3-point range last season. Quisenberry needs to dominate in the Horizon League this season. NBA scouts told Quisenberry he has to improve his long-range shooting to around 38 to 40 percent.

“Come out, be the best leader I could be day in and day out,” Quisenberry said. “Improve on defense every time on the ball, every play, being that pest on defense, that killer.”

There also was some good feedback for the junior guard, who thrives on driving toward the basket and shoots 79 percent from the foul line, along with 4.2 assists per game.

“I was surprised about the good feedback I heard,” Quisenberry said. “I was expecting to get some, but I didn’t expect the team to be that excited to talk to me more than me to talk to them.”

He and the rest of the YSU players are slated to be back on campus next weekend and start working in groups of four on July 20. The Penguins players, according to Calhoun, will work in pods of four on the floor, lifting, conditioning, etc., to put the team in a bubble-like atmosphere to protect one another and others from the spread of the coronavirus — observing social distancing and wearing masks.

Quisenberry said he’ll be with the group including Geoff Hamperian and incoming freshmen Shemar Rathan-Mayes and Will Dunn.

“His love of the game wears off on all the guys,” Calhoun said. “He touches all the guys with his work ethic. He’s teaching work ethic to all our newcomers. Throughout the game, he’s going to be a calming presence. He can go get a basket. He can go also get someone else a basket. I think that’s where he’s grown. His ability to run a team, pass the ball and make the right decision.”

Quisenberry has been working out from his home in Springfield, Ohio, since the pandemic started in March, soon after the team’s final game. He’s been one of the lucky ones to have a nearby gym at a family friend’s house where he can constantly hone his skills.

He’s been in quarantine with his mother, father, brother, sisters, niece and nephews.

It’s been a while since he spent this much time with his family, something he doesn’t take for granted.

“I thank God everyday for the opportunities I have and the people He’s blessed me with and been around me to help me get to this point,” Quisenberry said. “I thank Him everyday when I go to sleep because I wouldn’t be in the position without Him, the man above. I got all the talent in the world, but without Him giving me the people and setting me in this place where I’m at right now. I’m very blessed to have a gym to go to, a place to get lifts in and family and friends, too.”

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