Penguin men look for breakout year

YOUNGSTOWN — Darius Quisenberry came in to see Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun the other day, as do most of the Penguins.

Open lines of communication are there between coaches and players.

Quisenberry, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound sophomore point guard from Springfield, Ohio, had a handful of freshman accolades last season — including being named to the second team on the all-Horizon League team. He had the most points by a freshman since the Penguins moved to Division I in the 1981-82 season with 441.

He’s one of the many building blocks for the YSU program, which went 12-20 last season.

Quisenberry led the team with around 14 points a game, shot 41 percent from the floor and 32 percent from 3-point range. He was an 80 percent free-throw shooter and had 120 assists to his 65 turnovers. Quisenberry led the team in both categories.

Calhoun said the guard was one of the best Horizon League players in the second half of the season.

“Those are all areas we’ve talked in great length of continue to get better,” said Calhoun, whose team hosts Thiel tonight at 7:45 p.m., in the season opener at the Beeghly Center. “Don’t worry about what critics think. Block out what people are talking about, and really lock in on the things that can really elevate your game. More importantly, help our team be in positions to win.

“He’s a guy that, obviously, will be really, really good for us this year.”

Quisenberry is joined by 6-5 guard Jelani Simmons (sophomore) and Garrett Covington (junior), along with 6-6 junior forward Naz Bohanon.

Michael Akuchie has earned his minutes the last couple of years, tirelessly working following games and practices. Akuchie’s 3-point presence give YSU a dual threat in the post with this 6-8 junior from Plantation, Fla.

He’s one to watch this season.

“(West Virginia) Coach (Bob) Huggins used to have a great quote, ‘You can’t cheat the game. You get out of the game what you put in the game,'” Calhoun said. “Mike has been an everyday guy from day one from the time he arrived on campus. Both Mike’s mom and dad have done a tremendous job of putting in the values of hard work into his everyday life. Not only in basketball, but he’s a tremendous student as well in our business program.

“I’m excited for him. When you put in that amount of time, the game is going to give back to you.”

YSU gave up almost 79 points a game last season, not something good teams do. Northern Kentucky and Wright State, the top two teams in the Horizon League last season, surrendered an average less than 70 points.

Teams like national champion Virginia has a pack line defense and Syracuse is known for its 2-3 zone.

“All the elite programs have an identity,” Calhoun said. “We’ve tried to get our kids to buy in to defense. It’s got to be our identity. That’s got to be who we are. We’ve got to hang our hat on defense. So far, so good. We’ve made great strides defensively.

“It starts with the communication. Not beating yourselves. We’ve seen great improvements in both scrimmages. Fouls are down. Last year, we were one of the teams that fouled the most in the country.

“It had a little bit to do with philosophy. It had a little to do with youth. As we get older, we see things differently. We have to continue like that because 25 percent of our games ended up being just two possessions.

“We lost three within a possession. We won four within a possession. As you know, one or two college basketball games come down to one or two possessions. The least amount of times we can foul and put our opponents on the foul line, it’s going to help us. We’ve done a nice job in our defense in our two scrimmages.”

INJURY BUG: Sophomore forward Olmadie Pedersen is out again with a broken hand. It’s not the same place in his right, shooting hand which held him out this summer. It’s a different spot.

Pedersen recently had surgery, having eight screws put into his hand.

Calhoun said Pedersen, a 6-8, 225 post player, is likely to miss the first eight games. Calhoun hopes Pedersen returns in mid December or for Horizon League play in late January.

“My heart breaks for him because he hasn’t had a lot of time to develop in the offseason,” Calhoun said.

CULTURE: Calhoun has been excited about the culture change in the YSU program since he took over in late March of 2017.

“It’s what’s exciting about taking over a program,” Calhoun said. “I think that’s the initial thing you try to do, establish a work ethic. I think our guys have really done a great job. I don’t know if I could count a day we’ve wasted here in the offseason. Player-to-player coaching has been nice to see. Naz, Garrett have done a tremendous job. Their games have really expanded. Role expanded as far as a leadership role. It’s good to see those upperclassmen now taking a great deal of pride in what they’re doing each and every day. They know every day matters. They know now how to prep for games. They’re teaching the younger guys.”

Freshman Daniel Ogoro will redshirt this season. He’s being groomed to take over some leadership roles.

“He’ll be such a great leader his sophomore, junior and senior year because he’s watching and learning from the other guys in the program,” Calhoun said.

Non-scholarship players like redshirt sophomores Justin Bofenkamp, a John F. Kennedy graduate, and Morgantown, W. Va., native Geoff Hamperian have been very vocal and key contributors during practices.

“I think both of those guys, whatever they decided to do beyond basketball, look out,” Calhoun said. “They attack things with great energy. They’re both highly intelligent. You’re going to see those guys get into some games because they’re earning some minutes. They’re earning the opportunity to get out there. They’re really helping our program by their communication, by doing the right thing every single day. They’ve been great to see.”

One thing Calhoun preached from day one was for the team on the floor to huddle up during breaks and help up any fallen teammate. They now do those things unprompted.

“It becomes natural,” Calhoun said. “Basketball is muscle memory. Coach Huggins taught me that a long time ago.”

This team is learning about core value, morale and how to be accountable to one another.

“I feel really good about the season, I really do. I like the direction of the program,” Calhoun said.

PAYDAY: The Penguins play at Louisville on Sunday and Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 15. YSU’s athletic department gets $150,000 for the Louisville trip and $82,000 for Louisiana, according to Calhoun.

There is no direct money from the three-game series with West Virginia, but there is a chance to earn some more for the Penguins athletic department if the Covelli Centre is filled for a 1 p.m., game on Dec. 21, especially if there are at least 5,000 in attendance for that contest.

“Hopefully $280,000 to $300,000 based on outcome of WVU crowd,” Calhoun said.

DOUBLEHEADERS: Calhoun is excited about tonight’s opener, which begins with a 5:15 p.m., game as the Penguin women host Canisius.

“I’m excited about the opener,” he said. “I’m a big proponent about doubleheaders. I think our fan base has a chance to not only see us but our women’s team that’s coming off a WNIT. They have nine new girls, which are going to be exciting to see. We’ve got eight returning guys.

“I think people will be excited about (tonight).”


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