By Rob Todor
They are the top scorers for the YSU women’s basketball team.
YOUNGSTOWN — Officially, Bojana Dimitrov leads the Youngstown State women’s basketball team in scoring.
She’s also got to be the leader in floor burns.
But that’s exactly the kind of effort her coach, Cindy Martin, believes will eventually lead the Penguins out of their malaise.
Dimitrov, a junior in her first year at YSU, and true freshman Brandi Brown, have emerged as the kind of players Martin can build around to deliver the program’s first winning season since 1999-2000.
That’s not going to happen this year — the Penguins are 0-11 heading into the holiday break. They play host to Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Jan. 2 at the Beeghly Center in their Horizon League opener.
But on a team badly in need of Division I-caliber players and depth, Dimitrov and Brown have stepped up to show their worth to Martin and her staff.
“I think I think [Dimitrov] was a natural leader when she was 15 years old,” said Martin, whose 3-38 in her second season at YSU. “She’s actually 23 [years old] … she’s got a great sense of humor and everyone takes a great liking to her. It’s real easy for her to tell someone something because they respect her and they listen to her. She’s not a captain but she definitely leads like one.”
Dimitrov leads the Penguins with a 13.7 scoring average. She also averages 3.1 rebounds per game and is second on the team with 15 assists. That she also has 33 turnovers speaks to her still learning the game at the Division I level.
“In junior college I was by far the fastest and strongest player on my team,” said Dimitrov, who goes by “Boki.”
“Here, I am still pretty fast but I am not even the strongest player on our team.”
That would explain the floor burns, because Dimitrov hasn’t reined in her aggressive play. That often leaves her taking the brunt of contact around the lane. Not surprising, then, that she suffered a concussion against Weber State on Nov. 28 and sat out the next two games.
“Since then she’s been a little hesitant to do some of the things she used to do, like take charges and get involved in some on-ball play,” said Martin. “We’re hoping this break will do her some good.
“Teams have been focusing on her since her first couple games and we’ve got to find ways to keep getting her the ball, setting her up for situations to be successful,” added Martin.
Brown is averaging a double-double through the first 11 games — 10.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
Monday, in a 73-45 loss to Bowling Green, the 5-foot-11 native of Claremont, Calif., finished with nine points and a career-high 18 rebounds.
She was just 4 of 10 from the field and committed five turnovers, but displayed some polished moves to create shots not usually seen in a first-year college player.
“Brandi’s just a natural player that is now learning counter moves and how to read a defense better,” said Martin. “Our post coach, Meredith Baugher, is doing a great job with her.
“When we got her she did not have what I would consider a counter move. She had her drop step to the baseline and if [defenders] were there then that was that. Now she continues to try to make a second move and go around the defense.”
The next progression for Brown is to combat double- and triple-teams. The Penguins’ only true offensive post presence, Brown can expect multiple defenders on every possession. That she was 4 of 10 from the field and committed five turnovers on Monday proved it is a work in progress.
“[The college game] is a lot more up-tempo than high school,” said Brown, “and there’s a lot more discipline on both sides of the floor.”
Brown leads the team in field goal percentage, at 45.5 percent — she’s shooting just 46 percent at the foul line, so there’s another area for improvement — and, almost incredibly, 43 percent of her rebounds are on the offensive end.
“My mental game has improved a lot more,” said Brown. “I’ve been forced to really take a look inside myself and push and work hard.”
The upside is enormous for Brown. She doesn’t turn 18 until next month.
“We’re really excited about Brandi’s potential,” said Martin.
The same could be said for the program as whole. The outlook might not be positive for those on the outside, but Martin sees lights of progress every day.
“We had the most unusual preseason in my [coaching career],” she said. “We had three girls [Brown, Maryum Jenkins and Kaitlin March] out of eight that weren’t even getting their running in because of injuries.
“We’ve finally gotten our reps in, unfortunately, during games, but we’ve gotten the reps in and now we can kind of polish a few of those things off,” added Martin.
“But the lights are on, the effort is there, the energy and enthusiasm is there and now we need to execute a few things down to the wire a little bit better.”