Freshman pair push into lineup

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Naz Bohannon, left, and Garrett Covington are starters for Youngstown State as freshmen.

YOUNGSTOWN — Dribble, dribble, dribble.

Stare, then shoot.

Naz Bohannon repeated the process after Tuesday’s practice, shooting free throws over and over again.

The Youngstown State University freshman forward took a pass from Danny Reese, assistant to the head coach, circled around and made a mid-range jumper.

It’s repetitive, but the 6-foot-6 Lorain native was working through visible exhaustion.

He’s determined to get better. He’s determined to win.

Understandably, he’s frustrated as YSU (6-19, 4-8 Horizon League) has lost four straight, including Saturday’s loss to Wright State in which the Raiders had a 14-0 first-quarter run to blow past the Penguins.

How does YSU prevent these droughts?

“We shouldn’t be 25 games into the season and asking when do we get to the point when we stop it,” said Bohannon, whose team is at UIC (14-11, 9-3), Thursday at 8 p.m. “It’s about pride and heart. It’s within yourself. We have to figure out when are we going to punch back and go down fighting.”

Garrett Covington, a 6-5 guard from Carmel, Ind, north of Indianapolis, is YSU’s defensive mainstay. The freshman who spent a year at Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep before coming to the Penguins was working with YSU assistant coach Paul Molinari. The YSU assistant made quick passes to Covington, who was shooting 3-pointers.

Offense eventually will come, but making stops is crucial for the future success of this Penguins team.

“If we stay locked in and focused defensively, our offense is going to come,” Covington said. “First and foremost, defense. We can’t stress defense enough.”

One thing this YSU coaching staff stresses is vocal leadership, in games and in practices. Speak up and lead your team.

Molinari wants Covington and Bohannon to take more of those roles.

“They both need to say more,” Molinari said. “They’re both very intelligent basketball players. They see things. They’ve played a lot of minutes and they’ve had a lot of opportunities.”

Bohannon wants his team to play to the best of their potential. That way, YSU has the best chance of winning.

“I take it on my shoulders,” he said. “People tell me all the time, ‘You’re just a freshman. It’s alright. We put you in shoes that were a little too big for you.’ When the shoes came, they gave them to me. I told them, ‘They had to fit. It’s my job to get the team to go. It’s my job to speak to everybody, no matter grade, age or what it is.’

“If I can’t get the guys ready to play, I go back and ask myself, ‘What did I do wrong?'”

Both are freshman and staples in the starting lineup, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more learning to do.

Molinari wants them both to understand the team’s defensive concept with implementing angles, hands and activity on the press. Both have to understand what the coaching staff wants out of each possession.

Molinari would like to see Covington be a better passer and ball handler, but that’s the case for any perimeter player.

The YSU assistant also wants to see Bohannon use the rim for angles and finish plays. Molinari pointed out a play during the Northern Kentucky game in which the 6-6 freshman made an aggressive interior play which left an indelible mark on the YSU assistant coach.

“I don’t think we see that enough,” Molinari said.

Now Bohannon is a mainstay around the rim, ranking fourth in Horizon League games with just under nine rebounds per game.

“He rebounds like he’s a man-child on the glass, by far the best freshman rebounder in the league,” Molinari said. “I don’ think there’s any question. That shows his great nose for the ball.”

Both of these newcomers have given effort where sometimes it has been lacking on this team. They’re busy in the gym, still honing their skills.

“I think they’re both mentally tough kids,” Molinari said. “Having the opportunity to play as many minutes as freshman has helped that. We’ve asked them to guard the two best players on the other team. There’s not too many freshman that get that opportunity.

“I think that continues to make them mentally tougher. They’re physically tough kids as well.”