Penguin combo

Quisenberry, Simmons hope to lead YSU to success

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Oakland’s Braden Norris, left, tries to dribble on Youngstown State’s Darius Quisenberry, right, Sunday in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Jelani Simmons saw the opening in transition and knew he couldn’t let Oakland’s 6-foot-11 center Brad Brechting have another easy two.

The words of Youngstown State University men’s basketball assistant coach Paul Molinari echoed in his head.

Brechting went up, but Simmons, a 6-5 wing, soared his lanky body upward and swatted away the ill-gotten attempt as he spurred an 11-2 run against the Golden Grizzlies in Sunday’s game.

“Coach Paul was on me about my defense,” said Simmons, a YSU freshman from Columbus Beechcroft High School. “Some games I was playing bad D. It was on me to play hard in practice. I just showed it out there. I know we had to play defense in this game.”

Darius Quisenberry had plenty of offense for the Penguins (4-11, 0-2 Horizon League). The 6-1 freshman point guard from Springfield remembers going against his older siblings in the backyard and in the parking lot. The pick-up games of 21 were rough to say the least. Nothing was given to the young Quisenberry.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Oakland’s Tray Maddox, left, dribbles on Youngstown State’s Jelani Simmons, right, Sunday in Youngstown. Simmons and Quisenberry are the future of the Penguins, which are hoping that combination leads to plenty of success.

“Just growing up getting those beatings and whuppings helped,” Quisenberry said.

He later played travel ball against some of the best he could face. Sunday’s tall task of Oakland’s post players didn’t faze the YSU freshman.

Quisenberry drove to the rim with reckless abandon, sacrificing his body with every entrance to the paint on Sunday. Going 8 for 14 from the floor and 5 of 8 from the foul line equaled 21 points against Oakland.

“I’ve always played against top-notch players,” he said. “Going in against 6-11 and 7-0 is normalized to me now.”

Simmons and Quisenberry were first-team, All-Ohio players at Beechcroft and Huber Heights Wayne. Their families instilled good habits which have transferred to their on-court play.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun, center, talks to Jelani Simmons, right, and Garrett Covington, left.

Simmons’ father, Humphrey, was his coach at Beechcroft, where he averaged 20 points per game last season.

Jelani knows he has to play better defense, score and not settle for 3-pointers.

“He’s been hard on me and tell me what I have to do to be successful,” Jelani said.

Quisenberry was there with his parents following this year’s game at Pittsburgh, taking plenty pictures. Parents do those sort of things.

It was his first game as a Penguin. They’ve made long-distance trips from the Springfield/Dayton area before, knowing that their son’s future development came before their wants. It’s called being a parent.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State’s Darius Quisenberry, center, guards Oakland’s Braden Norris, left, as YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, right, dictates instructions to Quisenberry on defense.

The YSU freshman point guard is well aware of what his parents have done.

“Everything I do are for my parents, the way I play on the court, how hard I play, everything I give on the court because they sacrifice so much for me,” Quisenberry said. “It’s only right for me to sacrifice 110 percent on the court for them.”

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said Quisenberry, Simmons and fellow freshman shot blocker Olamide Pedersen, a 6-8 forward, have the potential to be Penguins top three like Wright State post Loudon Love, wing Cole Gentry and point guard Mark Hughes, an Ursuline High School graduate. Calhoun said he believes in the development of YSU’s three as they learn the college essentials of watching film, learning how to warm up and even choosing their wardrobe to name a few.

“That’s what the fun part for me is to watch their development,” Calhoun said. “That’s why I like college sports a little bit better than the professional ranks because you get to see guys mature and get better.

“We’re seeing that before our own eyes with Darius and Jelani. Ola was tremendous early. Now he’s went through a slump. His effort (against Oakland) was pretty good and he was locked in.”

Being focused isn’t easy with a record of 4-11. Quisenberry knows it is a process, one that comes with struggles. He has to keep his head up and bring his teammates along, something his father, Richard, told him.

Winning in Youngstown will come. It will most definitely come.

“That growth mindset we have to have as young players and young freshmen to know losing isn’t good, but we’re going to take those lumps and remember later when Youngstown becomes a winning program,” Quisenberry said.