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Crucial summer for YSU men’s basketball

YOUNGSTOWN

SIX-game winning streak. These group of young men saw a glimmer turn into real hope, hope of turning a program around. It’s a solemn vow each current Youngstown State University men’s basketball player and coaching staff member has pinpointed since Jerrod Calhoun took the coaching reins in late March of 2017.

This is his third year with a program that has won eight in his first year and 12 last season. Calhoun and the YSU program felt as if 16 should’ve been more of a viable number in the 2018-19 season. Crucial injuries to Naz Bohannon, Darius Quisenberry and Garrett Covington put sweet double-figure wins out of reach.

“We want to show people we could’ve turned a big page last year,” Calhoun said. “We were so close. The continuity of guys coming back and adding a couple crucial pieces. I think we’re going to be right there.”

Year three is huge for the Penguins program. They haven’t won 19 since the 2000-01 season, reached a conference championship game since the 1997-98 season — a year before I took over this beat. They haven’t won … cripe, I can’t write any more about futility. It makes my head ache more than my current sinus infection. If you ever had one during the summer, they drain the flipping life out of you. It’s like writing about two decades of mediocre basketball. Been there, done that. Headache subsiding.

Most outsiders thought business as usual after four players entered the NCAA transfer portal and left the Penguins. YSU was just a flash-in-the-pan, like so many years.

The Penguins filled three of the four sports and have four in this year’s recruiting class.

YSU recently signed Daniel Ogoro, a 6-foot-5 slim point guard, to a grant-in-aid, which means a signing after the late period deemed by the NCAA.

Calhoun couldn’t stop talking about the London, England native, who comes from Mercersburg (Pennsylvania) Academy.

Good off the bounce, great passer, even makes others around him better. Sounds like a great point guard. He meshed with the current YSU roster.

“When you have eight returning guys and you’ve signed three players, you’re really looking for the right fits,” Calhoun said. “You don’t want to add any pieces that don’t fit the puzzle.

“We’ve got such a good nucleus. Looking at Daniel as a person and a player, he fits what we need.”

Guards Christian Bentley (Brampton, Ontario) and Tyler Foster (Baltimore, Maryland) help too. Bentley is 6-3, while Foster is 6-5. Bentley and 6-8 forward Jamir Thomas (Passaic, New Jersey) came from junior colleges while Foster transferred from East Carolina after one season. NCAA transfer rules state Foster would’ve had to sit out next season. Not so fast.

YSU Assistant Athletic Director Emily Wollet and Penguins assistant basketball coach Paul Molinari did their due diligence and were instrumental in Foster being cleared to play next season.

“They did a fabulous job reaching out to East Carolina trying to get his situation,” Calhoun said. “Long story short, he won the waiver and is able to play.”

There’s one scholarship remaining for the Penguins.

Calhoun said he may let it sit or use it. That’s still yet to be determined.

“Two things I’ve learned and I’m going to implement,” he said. “I only want 11 guys who are going to be active. I always want two guys sitting out. I think you got to develop guys, you got to make guys better. That’s how you build your program.

“I think that’s something we’re seriously looking at as a staff.”

There’s been more than 750 boys visiting the YSU campus through team, elite and individual camps this month. Feedback from local teams has been good as the Penguins have been very welcoming to area coaches and their teams. There is another elite camp on August 3.

“That’s how you keep local guys close because they feel that love,” Calhoun said. “Once we can turn the corner this year, it’s just going to pay dividends to make sure these kids have been on our campus all summer.”

It’s a crucial summer for a Penguins program, one that is trying to make its mark outside the walls in downtown Youngstown.

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