Penguins improve in 2nd year for coach

YOUNGSTOWN — Oakland University men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe sent a text to Youngstown State University coach Jerrod Calhoun following the Penguins’ loss on March 7 in the Horizon League tournament at Detroit.

Calhoun read it on the four-plus hour trip on the bus back to the eastern part of Ohio.

Although YSU’s season was done, it gave the Penguins hope for the 2019-20 season, something this program hasn’t seen in some time.

Kampe texted Calhoun, “I think you guys are going to be picked in the top four. You’ve got a lot coming back. You’re building it the right way with high school kids and sprinkling in some transfers and things like that.”

The Penguins (12-20) made strides from year one to two under Calhoun, going 8-10 in the Horizon League. It’s an improvement from 8-24 overall and 6-12 in the Horizon his first season as Penguins mentor.

YSU had a six-game winning streak starting Jan. 30 in Oakland, spanning to a Feb. 16 home game against UIC, which vaulted the Penguins from one of the Horizon League doormats to one of the top eight in the league, qualifying for the league postseason tournament.

The Penguins finished the season losing four straight.

Starters Garrett Covington and Darius Quisenberry missed games during that four-game stretch. Covington, a sophomore, was on the Horizon League all-defensive team. Quisenberry, a freshman and one of the best point guards in the league, was a second-team HL selection.

Quisenberry, who averaged 16.3 points per game in league play, is the first freshman in school history to earn all-conference honors. He set the YSU freshman 3-point record with 51 and scoring record with 430.

Covington averaged 10.7 points in all games, but defended the opposition’s top scorer, averaging more than a steal and 2.5 defensive rebounds per game.

“When you’re young, you can’t miss guys,” Calhoun said. “When guys miss, it’s a whole different ballgame. When we had all of our guys and we were rolling for a while, when we won those six I loved our chemistry. I loved our whole identity. I loved our youthfulness.”

This is a YSU team led by freshmen and sophomores. Lorain native Naz Bohannon had a steady hand all year, averaging eight points and rebounds per game.

The combination of former first-team All-Ohio standouts Quisenberry (Huber Heights Wayne) and Jelani Simmons (Columbus Beechcroft) has been a good combination for the Penguins in their first season.

Calhoun said both come from great families and programs, seeing an outstanding support system from both parents. Both want to change the culture of the YSU program.

“They both have a chance to do some great things here,” Calhoun said. “I think in the offseason it’s about their leadership, development. Skills are going to get better and better.”

Freshman Olamide Pedersen is a 6-9 forward who started in 17 games this year and has shot-blocking ability and a chance to improve this offseason.

Junior guards Devin Morgan and Donel Cathcart were integral pieces coming off the bench, averaging 9.5 and 7 points, respectively.

Sophomore forward Michael Akuchie made progress as well with some key moments in the six-game winning streak, including going for double figures in the win Jan. 30 at Oakland.

Senior Noe Anabir, a 6-8 forward from Switzerland, was the biggest surprise for Calhoun this season.

Bohannon improved his free-throw shooting, going almost 78 percent from the line during the league portion. Akuchie, a staple in the gym after home games, made some strides as well.

Anabir plans to play professionally overseas. Calhoun wanted him to stay as a graduate assistant coach, but Anabir wanted to head back to Europe. Anabir averaged five points a game during the league season and led the team with 17 blocked shots.

“I thought he did a tremndous job scoring the ball for us,” Calhoun said. “His defense got much better. I thought he really tried to lead.”

COMING AND GOINGS: Jamir Thomas, a 6-8, 250-pound forward from Passaic, N.J., is taking Anabir’s scholarship for next season. Thomas, who spent two season with Garden City Community College in Kansas, signed in November. He’ll have two years of eligibility at YSU.

Penguins assistant coach Brady Trenkle was Thomas’ coach his first year at Garden City. Thomas averaged 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds last season for GCCC.

Thomas is a top-50 junior college player who gives the Penguins a dominant presence in the post and can score from 15 to 17 feet.

“With the guys we have coming back, adding a little girth inside, I don’t know where we’ll be picked preseason, but I like our roster,” Calhoun said.

Freshman Atiba Taylor and junior Kendale Hampton entered the NCAA transfer portal, which means coaches can contact both players. Maxwell, who has one year of eligibilty remaining, averaged 3.4 points. Taylor, who has three years remaining, averaged 1.9 points. Maxwell played in 28 games, starting three, while Taylor played in 11 off the bench.

Taylor and Hampton have the option to leave or return to YSU, but can be contacted by other coaches. If both leave, which is likely, the Penguins have two remaining scholarships for the 2019-20 season.

“In the landscape of college basketball, if you look at last year’s Horizon League, guys that left, there were 34 transfers,” Calhoun said on Monday, prior to the two announcing they were in the transfer portal. “Could it affect us? Yes, it is a possiblity. Guys are unhappy from playing time to whatever it is.”

COMMENTS