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Penguins begin preseason camp

YOUNGSTOWN — After an offseason that featured plenty of change, but also one that was a bit more typical than last year, the Youngstown State men’s basketball team got its preseason practices underway Monday.

Nine new players — five transfers and four freshmen — join a Penguin team that finished 15-12 a season ago. YSU will be tasked with replacing its top two scorers from that squad, Naz Bohannon (16.5 points per game) and Darius Quisenberry (14.9 points per game).

So far, though, head coach Jerrod Calhoun says he likes what he sees.

“I think we’ve had a tremendous offseason, starting with recruiting,” he said. “We added four really good high school players, and then we’ve done a great job in the portal. We got (five) transfers that I think will have a big impact.”

The freshmen on this year’s roster are Luke Chicone (Mentor/Mentor, OH), Jacori Owens (Combine Academy/Charlotte, NC), Michael Lucarotti (Cathedral Prep and International Sports Academy/Erie, PA) and Josh Irwin (West Geauga/Mayfield Heights, OH).

From the portal, YSU added Tevin Olison (University of Cumberlands), Collen Gurley (Mount Union), Dwayne Cohill (Dayton), Chris Shelton (Hampton) and Owen Long (Marysville). Cohill is a former 4-star recruit.

Having a normal offseason in 2021, as compared to the stringent COVID-19 protocols of 2020, has helped the team come together and get the newcomers assimilated, Calhoun said.

“A summer ago, nobody was around, so it was very difficult,” he said, adding that YSU is a developmental program that improves its players over time.

“Summer months are really important, but I also think the team bonding aspect of it (is important). We’ve done paintballing activities, softball games, bowling, you name it. We’ve done a lot of activities to really connect this group.”

It certainly helps that the Penguins return three starters to this year’s roster, as well. Garrett Covington and Michael Akuchie are back with their fifth years of eligibility, while Shemar Rethan-Mayes returns as a sophomore.

Covington scored 12.5 points per game and pulled down 4.6 rebounds per game, while Akuchie led the team in rebounding with 8.3 per game and added 9.9 points per contest. Rethan-Mayes scored 10.4 points per game and had a team-high 85 assists.

“We have three starters coming back, so I like where we’re at. I think this will be one of our deeper teams,” Calhoun said. “We can play a lot of different guys, and we’re very skilled. The ball moves, and we can make shots.”

Calhoun said the returning players have told him this is the most connected roster they’ve been a part of.

“That’s a great sign,” Calhoun said.

The coach added that the team will rely on those three for leadership, and that Daniel Ogoro has stepped forward, too.

With those pieces in place, Calhoun says expectations for the program remain unchanged.

“Our ultimate goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament,” he said.

The path there won’t be easy, however. YSU’s nonconference slate features marquee matchups at Penn State (Nov. 10) and West Virginia (Dec. 22) in addition to what Calhoun says could be the strongest conference slate he’s seen since arriving in Youngstown.

“It’s a deep and talented league, but I like our team,” he said.

The coach also feels YSU has some momentum entering the 2021-2022 season.

“We’re coming off back-to-back winning seasons, so we have good momentum. We just have to maximize every day,” he said. “You can’t take days for granted. You have to try and get better every single day because those little wins every day will add up to some good, big things in the end for our guys.”

YSU opens its season with the aforementioned road trip to Penn State.

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