By Joe Scalzo
If Jerry Slocum has his way, Saturday’s game against Hiram at the Covelli Centre could be the basketball equivalent of a plate of nachos before a steak dinner.
The Youngstown State men’s basketball coach wants the game to develop into the type of event that draws some of college basketball’s best programs, including Michigan State, Notre Dame or Pitt.
“Do we hope that it would grow into that kind of game in our future? Absolutely,” he said. “But I think this is a good first-step trial to see how the game plays out and how everybody likes it.”
The Penguins (4-4) will play their first home game away from Beeghly Center since 1972 when they host the Terriers in the inaugural Downtown Round Ball Classic. YSU has discussed playing a game at the Covelli Centre for years but it wasn’t until this season that the two sides were able to work out the logistics.
If things go well, the Penguins will look to bring in more high-profile opponents than Hiram, a Division III team.
“I think it’s a necessary first step for this year,” Slocum said. “You kind of want to go into that experience trying to get through it one time with the Covelli people and with us.”
Slocum said he does not want to give up a Horizon League home game, so he’d like to limit the contest to a first semester (i.e. November/December) date. He hopes it can be a centerpiece game of the non-conference schedule.
“Where that [game] is in two or three years is unknown but I’m dreaming big,” Slocum said. “I’m hoping that it’ll be an attractive thing, that maybe it can grow into something very, very special.”
YSU junior guard Kendrick Perry has never been inside the Covelli Centre but said arena games in the Horizon League are “pretty electrifying.”
“I’m hoping we can get some of that same atmosphere here in Youngstown,” he said.
After eight games against Division I teams, YSU’s schedule takes a competitive dip this week with Geneva and Hiram — two Division III teams that are a combined 1-8.
When asked if it’s more difficult to stay focused against these kinds of teams, Perry said, “I think it is, but that’s just something we have to ignore and put to the side. We need to stay focused and stay hungry and treat these games like the Georgia game or the Bowling Green game.”
Slocum said freshman guard Ronnye Beamon will redshirt this season. He is one of three players who have not played this season along with sophomore guard Danny Reese and sophomore forward Larry Johnson Jr., a partial qualifier who will sit out this season but practice with the team.
“We’ve been toying with it for weeks and sat and talked with his family and him,” Slocum said. “He’s got a lot of potential but he’s obviously playing behind KP [Perry].”
Perry needs 70 points to reach 1,000 in his YSU career. He is averaging 17.7 points per game, so he’s on track to reach the milestone in four games.
When asked if he’s paying attention, he smiled and said, “Well, [assistant sports information director] Jamie [Hall] keeps me updated through Twitter, but as far as the number of points, nah, I’m really not so sure about it.”