Putting their best foot forward

YSU trainer instrumental part of Penguins’ system

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo YSU basketball trainer Todd Burkey poses for a picture prior to a Feb. 2 game at Detroit Mercy. The longtime YSU trainer is a key part of the Penguins team.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Noe Anabir receives the basketball as a couple of the opposition collapse on his 6-foot-8 frame.

Youngstown State’s only senior men’s basketball player knows his ability to post up for a quick two points, boxing out another forward. He quickly elevates. No issues there.

Anabir has been playing more minutes the second half of the season, coming off the YSU bench to help the Penguins (10-16, 6-7 Horizon League) during their four-game winning streak. His mobility couldn’t be possible without the team’s trainer, Todd Burkey.

“Todd has been a real important part of our program,” Anabir said. “We have a lot of minor injuries and he takes care of it. Just him being around us and telling us what to do take care of it. He plays a major role in the game of people who plays heavy minutes. Without him, we won’t be able to play those heavy minutes.”

Burkey earned his undergraduate degree in exercise science from YSU, then worked at Cleveland State for a while. He came back to the Penguins in 2001 to be the head strength coach for seven years. For the past 11, he’s been with the men’s basketball team.

He’s worked with YSU’s football, track and field, swimming, men’s and women’s tennis teams. Besides basketball, he currently works with women’s golf.

Burkey learns about each sport so he knows how to properly assess injuries for each athlete.

He sees the basketball team every day. He runs the weight-training program, which extends that time. In season, the team lifts once or twice a week. It goes up to four to five times a week during the offseason.

He’s on call for these young men whether it’s a runny nose or a sprained ankle. Treatments happen after practice, if the team is on the road or in a hotel room. The team has an internist, dentist and orthopedic doctors they can call as well.

“I probably get a better picture of who they are than anybody else other than their parents,” Burkey said. “I’ll get calls at 10, 11 at night or morning when I get up. They get to the doctor if they have the flu or cold, knee sprain, ankle sprain.

“… We’ve had a guy that have had a tooth knocked out at 10 p.m., on a Saturday. (The dentist) met me in his office after the game.”

YSU sophomore forward Naz Bohannon was diagnosed with a heart-related issue. He sat out a couple of games, including the first Horizon League contest. Coordinating efforts through Youngstown-area doctor James Shina and the Cleveland Clinic were vital to Bohannon’s health.

“At the end of the day, it ended up working out well because Naz is OK,” Burkey said. “We had to make sure everything was clear, especially in today’s day and age.

“In the day-to-day process, coaches and players want to know, am I good right now? This stuff takes time to make sure it’s OK. That was stressful to me to go back and forth. At the end of the day, he’s going to be OK.”

Is there preventative measures to catch something like Bohannon had?

The National Athletic Trainers’ Association said there should be pre-participation physical exams. Burkey does see an electrocardiogram as part of the preventative process at YSU. He said they are working with a local company and trying to move that process forward.

“If you were to screen the every day person, three out of every five persons would have some abnormality,” Burkey said. “Does that mean they can’t play athletics? Probably not. If you find that, you go on and do further screening. I don’t know if it warrants everybody being fully screened all the time. The unfortunate part is when you combine the testing results with being put in an environment, especially in heat. If you put them in heat and exerting workouts, people with those abnormalities will eventually show problems.”

It’s not just physical problems. Burkey said there are increased instances of anxiety and depression, not just unique to athletes. It’s a nationwide problem affecting the youth of America.

“We decided to implement screens to determine if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression,” Burkey said. “It’s a hard thing to deal with. It’s not something that shows up on the portal. You might see them removed from activities, not be so engaged in stuff. To me, that’s one of the things we to look at and deal with those issues. That’s not part of an ankle sprain, this or that.

“Increasingly, there’s a lot of off-the-court, off-the-field issues with anxiety and depression that really need to be looked at.”

There is Burkey and plenty of support staff that helps the YSU men’s basketball team in Youngstown and on the road.

Anabir is appreciative when he goes to Burkey to ask for certain things such as stretching, ice, compression boots and other tools to alleviate pain and injuries. He dealt with ankle injuries in the preseason and season.

“I used to come at nine in the morning then 4 p.m.,” Anabir said. “He’s always here to work with me and get me better and get me 100 percent, ready to play. Without him, I wouldn’t be on the court right now. I probably would have my foot in the boot. I wouldn’t be able to play, in a boot, dressed up.

“He’s always willing to help us. Thank you Burkey for being there for us.”