YSU must communicate in system of new coach

YOUNGSTOWN – Going into something new can be a daunting prospect, depending on the situation.

It could be the first day of high school when you can’t quite remember your locker combination.

You may have forgotten your favorite pencil at the start of fifth grade or the boy in the next row has already sunk his teeth into your writing instrument.

Either way, those situations bring their own levels of trauma.

Imagine you’ve played basketball, or for that matter, coached a certain way for a number of years.

All of sudden, a new coach with his up-tempo offense and defense comes to town.

This is what the Youngstown State men’s basketball team is going through on a daily basis.

Communication is the most important aspect of building this program, shedding a losing culture and eventually putting a winning team on Dom Rosselli Court inside the Beeghly Center.

YSU first-year coach Jerrod Calhoun is implementing his style of play that draws its roots from the helter-skelter style Kevin Mackey taught at Cleveland State in the mid-1980s, and from Calhoun’s mentor, Bob Huggins who uses it at West Virginia — the “Press Virginia” style of play.

On Monday, Calhoun and his staff, some of whom are learning the terminology as well, were trying to teach these eager young men how to trap — an essential part of YSU’s furious play.

No breaks. No boring half-court sets. It’s a full-go for 40 minutes, something which would bring a smile to Nolan Richardson’s face. The grizzled veteran coach implemented his 40 minutes of hell, a defense which wreaked havoc upon the opposition and eventually led Arkansas to the 1994 NCAA Championship.

I’m not saying this new YSU offense equals instantaneous success. Even Richardson didn’t have that at Arkansas. It took time, but not a decade in waiting either.

Calhoun turned around Fairmont State, an NCAA Division II school, to a 20-win program in the five years he was with the Falcons. Now, can that translate to the Horizon League and revive a dormant Division I program which has reached 17 or more wins a handful of times over the last three decades?

Teaching on-court lessons are great, but it takes more to build a winner.

Calhoun and his staff have entrenched themselves in this program working with the players on the court and being with them in the community. They recently ran in Sunday’s Panerathon in downtown Youngstown.

They’ve even had speakers come like YSU President Jim Tressel, Warren G. Harding graduate and former Ohio State standout Maurice Clarett and former WBA lightweight champion and Cardinal Mooney graduate Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini.

These are lessons Calhoun hopes his players have instilled for a lifetime.

“It shows our players we’re not just about basketball,” Calhoun said. “We’re about life skills. Hopefully these lessons through basketball translate off the court.

“That’s why you get into coaching is the process that you’re trying to teach these guys.”

Teaching is going on through smaller groups at this point with 13 scholarship and seven non-scholarship players currently on the team. He’s split them into three groups and grades them at the end of the week.

Each player brings a unique skill set into the YSU program, but each has to function as one unit in this offense and defense.

It all starts with communication, a vital part of not only a basketball team, but a workplace as well.

Calhoun said his team is in the crawling stages, but the work in the next month-and-a-half should progress to walking by the team’s first scrimmage in October.

By then, this team should know what Calhoun and his staff fully expect.

“This style is not for everybody,” Calhoun said. “This style is hard to play against. That’s why we play it. It’s both mentally and physically hard on you.

“If you’re not communicating in a pressing style, you have no chance.”

I wish more teams and, especially workplaces, relied on good communication. Maybe then, ventures would be more successful.