Male practice players helping Penguins

Tourney starts Saturday for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN — John Nicolais walked over to the Youngstown State recreation center and saw some guys playing basketball.

Normally, the YSU assistant women’s basketball coach goes to high school and junior college games in search of new players.

This was different.

Women’s basketball teams normally use practice players, and YSU was in need of a few. YSU coach John Barnes saw the same thing done at Green Bay. Nicolais had some when he was at NCAA Division II Drury University.

Enter Dalton Korda, a 2013 graduate of Western Reserve High School.

He thought since he played Division IV basketball in high school, so playing Division I basketball at YSU was out of the question. Who knew playing pick-up games at the recreation center would lead to playing against D-I players?

The Penguins hope it pays off when fifth-seeded YSU (15-14) plays against fourth-seeded Milwaukee (20-10) on Sunday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit in the Horizon League Tournament. This semifinal starts at 2:30 p.m.

Korda wasn’t alone in helping Ken Greaver, a 2013 McDonald graduate, said Korda asked him to be a practice player.

Greaver, the current John F. Kennedy boys junior varsity coach, was going to play at Waynesburg University (Pa.), but a left ankle injury cut his collegiate career short.

He’s mostly healed and enjoys playing.

“It’s fun to stay in shape and play the game even though I don’t play in college,” Greaver said. “I build friendships out of it. It’s nice to see them succeed on the floor.

“It’s not really about me. I’m just here to do what they ask me to do. It’s just nice to see them succeed and get a win out of it.”

Greaver and Korda are about 6 feet-4 inches and have athletic abilities that can be more high flying than the YSU women are used to seeing.

“It’s more of playing fundamental and playing smart,” Greaver said. “If you jump and they’re underneath you, you have the risk of you getting hurt yourself. Be smart and playing fundamental.”

Senior Kelley Wright, who broke her left arm during the Cleveland State game and is out for the rest of the season, said Korda, Greaver and the rest of the practice players won’t be dunking on the YSU women’s players.

Going against players more athletically gifted than they would see in the Horizon League helps prepare YSU, which has won nine of its last 11 games.

“They can kick the crap out of us some days,” Wright said. “Overall, it makes us better and more prepared.”

It helps having players willing to sacrifice their time in order to help the Penguins.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have some guys that are pretty committed,” Nicolais said. “They actually try to work their schedule around what our practice times are, which makes it nice we have someone on a consistent basis.”