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YSU men work hard to change culture

YOUNGSTOWN — Jerrod Calhoun hasn’t minced words since he’s taken over theYoungstown State University men’s basketball program.

He wants to win, something that has happened as many times as you can count on one hand in the past three decades. Losing has permeated around this program like an ill-timed expulsion of flatulence.

Calhoun knew that when he came here. How bad it was, well that was something else.

He inherited a Penguins team coming off of the team’s first-ever Horizon League Tournament semifinal appearance since the late 1990s. A day after, coach Jerry Slocum, who was with the program for more than a decade, retired. Some players left, while a couple stayed. Not everybody was on the same page with Calhoun and his staff. Those players either graduated or left the program after an eight-win season and a first-round tournament exit.

Year two is much different. It’s a group yearning to get better. There aren’t those undertones of apathy, something that has lingered around the Beeghly Center for too many years. There’s that all-in mentality this year, but this is a young team still learning.

Look closer. I did Friday against Detroit from the south stands of the Beeghly Center, taking in a game with my family while on vacation.

I talked to my son, who is a goalkeeper for his school’s soccer team. We saw the same thing, YSU was one pass away on most possessions from a score. My son saw too many times his team was one through ball away from a score. We get it.

YSU is getting the ball inside, something that didn’t happen earlier in the season, not settling for 3-point shots. Calhoun said he wanted his team to get at least 60 percent touches in the post. They’re starting to get that.

Unfortunately, one of the team’s top cogs around the basket has been out of commission the past two games. Calhoun said Naz Bohannon, a 6-foot-6 forward from Lorain and a superior student-athlete, has been out with “a serious medical concern.”

I can say with undoubted certainty Bohannon would be playing if he could. He has a passion for this game and it shows in games and practices. Bohannon is a natural-born leader, pacing YSU with 119 rebounds. Garrett Covington’s 67 is second best.

Bohannon’s teammates share his sentiments. They want to play. Devin Morgan was out of action during Friday’s Detroit game due to Calhoun’s decision to sit the redshirt junior point guard. Morgan had 17 points and five assists off the bench the following game against Oakland. He said after Sunday’s game he hated watching his team and knew he could help them.

These players take losses to heart. Losing is something these players aren’t used to seeing in their careers.

The players and coaches are upset because they want to change the culture of this program and they want it now.

They’re working in practices to correct the mistakes of not locking in and going hard all the time. Little things, like it did on Sunday, cost this team a couple of times this season. Learning that is essential heading into a four-game road trip starting tonight at Green Bay.

YSU is ranked 321 according to RealTimeRPI.com.

Calhoun hopes the loyal fans stay the course with this team, which is essentially in its first season of this regime with all these new players.

This YSU team wants to cut down the nets for a Horizon League championship and have a good laugh about these struggles.

Have faith. This is part of building a winning culture, something that hasn’t been here consistently since the mid-1980s.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Calhoun said. “There’s a reason I came here. There was a reason I was hired. There was a reason I recruited these guys.

“We’ll get it done.”

I believe it. I wouldn’t be writing this column if I didn’t.

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