By Joe Scalzo
Not that you need an excuse to play a pair of basketball games in Florida in December but when Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum decided to schedule South Florida and Bethune-Cookman, it wasn’t for his tan.
It was for his tandem.
“We wanted to get our Florida guys back to Florida,” said Slocum, who added another Floridian, freshman Bobby Hain, after he made the schedule. “Our goal was to get two of the guys who have meant so much to our program and to me personally back so they can play in front of their family.”
Senior guard Blake Allen grew up in Tampa, 10 minutes from USF, while junior guard Kendrick Perry is from Ocoee — 20 minutes from Orlando and about 90 minutes from Tampa. Hain, meanwhile, is from Jupiter, which is on the Atlantic coast, about three hours south of Daytona Beach, where Bethune-Cookman plays.
“It’s definitely going to be nice,” said Allen. “Obviously my parents have been up to watch me play in person but it’ll be nice for some of my other family members be able to see me play in person, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Does he play better or worse in front of friends and family?
“I’ve had it go both ways, so I’m hoping it’ll be positive this time,” said Allen, chuckling. “I’ve had some really big games with all of my family there and some not-so-big games. We’re going to draw from the positive stuff.”
Because of finals week, YSU has a 10-day break between its last game (a win over Hiram at the Covelli Centre) and its next one, Tuesday’s game at USF.
Slocum focused on conditioning on Monday (“We did nothing but run,” he said), gave his team Tuesday off and spent Wednesday in the weight room. The regular schedule was to resume today.
“It’s a funny week,” Slocum said.
Though several players are going through finals week for the first time, Allen said his week hasn’t been bad.
“For me it hasn’t been too bad compared to years past,” he said. “I am a senior and I’m winding down. I can remember in years past where it’s been extremely stressful and we’ve had games Friday or Saturday, so I’m glad that we were able to push it [the USF game] into next week.”
Allen said he didn’t get any questions from his younger teammates on how to deal with this week. One player who doesn’t need any tips is junior guard Mike Podolsky, a Canfield High graduate.
“Mike has a 4.0,” Allen said. “He hasn’t gotten a B since he’s been here.”
Slocum said his team is about to enter the second-toughest stretch of the season. Six of the next eight games are on the road, including the first two Horizon League games: Jan. 2 at UIC and Jan. 5 at Loyola.
That’s almost as bad as YSU’s first 11 days, when the Penguins played five out of six games on the road.
“This team handled the first test, I thought, extremely well,” Slocum said. “Now we go to two good teams in Florida, then go four out of five [on the road] to start the league. It’s a pretty daunting task for a program.”