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YSU men take pride in their game

Naz Bohannon puts on his white, sleeveless jersey. The red Y outlined in white, then black in goes above his No. 33.

There’s a name, but it’s always about the number on the back for this Lorain native as he is in his third year on the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team.

“I always tell players, ‘What is your Y?’ “ he said. “Remember all the time why you’re out here playing this game, not to be out here because we get the jersey. It’s a privilege to wear the jersey. Make it worthwhile.”

The 6-foot-6, YSU junior forward realizes the privilege it is to wear the jersey of this NCAA Division I school.

Every play, minute and second of each of the 30-plus games on the schedule means everything to Bohannon, who has been the foundation of everything YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun has wanted to instill from day one of this revamped Penguins men’s basketball team.

His family sees him following a game. No double-double. Bohannon feels like he’s failed his coach, an expectation the two wanted each and every game from the undersized, but powerful forward.

He’s since switched majors from mechanical engineering to business, both quality programs on the Youngstown campus.

“I’ve got to produce because I have to go get a job after this,” said Bohannon, whose team hosts Robert Morris Wednesday at 7 p.m. “I don’t want to go back home. I fear going back home. There’s nothing there. Why not? That drives me every time I wake up. I don’t want to go back to where I came from. This is all I’ve every asked for, why not make the best of it?”

Calhoun, who is in his third year with the Penguins, came from a Fairmont State program where he resurrected a Division II program into national prominence.

He’s said from day one Youngstown is starving for a successful basketball program. Men’s basketball is gigantic piece to an athletic puzzle — something that hasn’t been solved in decades.

Calhoun, who grew up in East Liverpool, is well aware of the hard-working, passionate people of the Mahoning Valley. He sees the Y when he’s out and about in Youngstown or in the suburbs. It’s about the pride in the hometown university, understanding why Bohannon said what he did about his pride of playing for YSU.

“For Naz to say that, he’s spot on,” Calhoun said. “I think he realizes it. It’s bigger than yourself. You put the jersey on you’re representing a bunch of people. We’ve talked in great length what it would mean, how we’re going to get there and where we’re at right now after eight games. Where can we go? What steps do we have to take to correct some of the mistakes we’ve made after eight games.”

YSU (4-4) is playing a Robert Morris team that is 2-7, but faced a handful of higher-caliber Division I opponents — only losing at Marquette by four points.

What steps do these Penguins have to make to win three of their next four, which are at the Beeghly Center? It starts with being accountable for a team that averages more than 71 points per game, shoots 26 percent from 3-point range and about 66 percent from the foul line.

Calhoun learned as a player and a coach you had to care about the product you produced.

“You have to get a group of individuals who really, really care,” he said. “I think we have guys who certainly care. When you’re struggling to shoot free throws, you’re struggling to shoot 3s, struggling with the scout (scouting report), you’ve got to do it outside of the mandatory hours. I think you have to care. You have to get a whole bunch of guys who really, really care about the team. You’ve got to care about yourself, but you have to put the team ahead of yourself and continue to care about one another then I think good things will happen.”

YSU has given up more than 80 points against two Mid-American Conference teams — Akron and last Saturday at Central Michigan.

Defense has been first and foremost with a Penguins team that hold opponents to 70 points a game — a stat YSU has not been able to boast in some time.

This entails getting off to a better start. YSU made a comeback against Central Michigan, but it was too little, too late.

“What we have to do collectively is care more,” Bohannon said. “If we care about every single possession about every single minutes about every single second of the game from the tip, we’ll understand the first possession is as important as the last possession with 30 seconds left.”

That, to him, is what it means to wear the Y.

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