Regional recruits key to YSU success

YOUNGSTOWN — Walking from your car, you see the imposing building from the outside. The Wolstein Center opens it doors and it feels more like a professional arena with its metallic turnstiles welcoming you in its gates.

You walk in the arena and then feel a sense of being gypped. What happened to half of the place?

A green curtain separates the empty half of any Cleveland State Vikings basketball game, begging the question if the great and wonderful Oz is willing to come out of hiding to mystify the crowd.

Then you realize it, like the classic movie, it is all smoke and mirrors.

Very little attendance, a lot of green chairs and a feeling of emptiness.

That changes on Jan. 1, 2018, as a tsunami emanating from Youngstown reaches the doors of the Wolstein Center.

The Youngstown State men’s basketball team starts Horizon League play that day against arch-rival CSU, the only league game on the that day’s slate.

Cleveland is home for new YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, a Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School graduate and former CSU basketball player.

Current YSU players like Braun Hartfield (Garfield Heights) and Francisco Santiago (St. Ignatius) also are all too familiar with Cleveland.

It can be the adopted home for the YSU fan for a couple of hours.

Calhoun hopes potential recruits are watching.

“I believe there’s going to be a lot of red because I have so much family up there,” Calhoun said. “That’s an area we want to lock in on, Cleveland, Ohio, and try to get players out of there.”

Calhoun and his staff are busy this week visiting and having players on campus, trying to sell them on why being a Penguin outweighs other opportunities.

Recruiting. It’s the lifeblood of a college program. It’s something this YSU staff has dedicated itself to do and do well since its inception in late March.

Adding players like a Naz Bohannon, a sought-after defensive end that teams like Michigan State and Iowa State wanted. The 6-foot-6 freshman forward from Lorain High School isn’t just another multi-sport success story who reminds you at first glance of former Kent State forward and San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.

He comes to YSU with an associate’s degree from Lorain Community College and a 3.93 GPA. He’s parlaying those both into a chemical or mechanical engineering degree — the real YSU selling point for Bohannon. There is life after basketball for the pride of Lorain.

Michael Akuchie, another freshman, saw YSU’s business school and was instantly attracted. This 6-8 freshman took his 4.2 GPA from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School and came to YSU for not only basketball, but a great education.

Devin Morgan, who sits out this season because of NCAA transfer rules, was the player of the year in the MEAC at Delaware State. The point guard was the team’s leading scorer last season, but left for a better opportunity. Usually players like Morgan end up at schools like Butler, Xavier or Dayton. Somehow, Morgan perched himself at YSU.

Tyree Robinson, who is from Fall River, Mass., decided YSU is closer to home than any of his other options. The standout at the famed Odessa College, came from the junior college ranks and is spending his last two seasons at YSU. The high-flying 6-5 forward left turned his back on New Mexico State and Colorado State to become a Penguin.

Recruiting starts with exposure.

YSU has three such opportunities this season as the Penguins play at Butler (Dec. 9, noon) and DePaul (Dec. 2, 2 p.m.) — both on FSN. The Dec. 29 game at Indiana (8 p.m.) is on the Big Ten Network. It is nationwide exposure for this YSU team as it tries to enhance its brand.

Playing and defeating CSU twice a year is vital to the direction of this Penguins program.

YSU can make that impact an hour west of Youngstown as the Penguins open the season against Kent State on Nov. 12 in the Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic played at the University of Akron.

It’s about staking your claim in northeast Ohio, just like YSU is doing by trying to take over the Cleveland area for its own — currently going after some sophomores from that region.

Garfield Heights’ 6-9 junior Brison Waller has been offered a scholarship from YSU, along with many others like Kansas State.

“I think everybody you’re playing on your schedule regionally, you want to beat,” Calhoun said. “That’s certainly brought up in recruiting, past history. How’s your program been?

“Here we’re trying to build a culture, a brand, a style of play. As I told our guys, what helps is going to to win games.”

It all starts Jan. 1 as the sea of red invades the Wolstein Center.