By Joe Catullo Jr.
Coming off two straight losses by a combined 50 points against Detroit and Green Bay, Youngstown State’s players huddled before facing Milwaukee on Jan. 19.
The Penguins were 1-3 against the Horizon League and fading fast. They needed a spark. They needed to catch fire before the season flamed out.
“We came out going into Milwaukee, and a bunch of guys said, ‘Whatever it takes,’” YSU head coach Jerry Slocum said. “[They said], ‘If I get 10 minutes, if I get 20 minutes, if I get five points, whatever it takes, we’ve got to do it to win.’”
Slocum added the coaches had nothing to do with “whatever it takes.” Blake Allen and D.J. Cole do not remember specifically what happened, but Cole said he remembers Allen preaching the phrase.
“‘We can’t lose this game,’” Allen said he told them. “’I don’t care what it takes’ and we just kind of carried that theme through the last couple of weeks. I think that’s a great attitude to have, and I think I’ll be preaching that to the guys for the rest of the year.”
YSU won that night, 75-72. The Penguins (12-8, 4-3) also defeated Wright State, 68-61, on Wednesday and Cleveland State, 73-59, on Saturday.
Not only was “whatever it takes” an inspiration to the whole team, but it was also motivational for Cole, who started his first game in Milwaukee. Cole has averaged seven points and 5.7 rebounds per game during his first three starts.
“D.J.’s probably had our best year in terms of consistency,” Slocum said. “When you have Blake on one side and [Kendrick Perry] on the other, and D.J. being able to drive it, you know, those guys get a lot of attention. We’ve been waiting for D.J. to play like he’s played. We knew it was in him, and he gives a dimension that makes us very, very good.”
Cole struggled in his freshman season, averaging. 0.8 points and 5.2 minutes per game. He said he was told during practice before Milwaukee that he would start and was ready to play “right away.”
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot on the offensive end and defensive end,” Cole said. “Last year coming in, I was just a defender. And this year, I’m a threat offensively.”
Allen said the team essentially went from having two point guards in the lineup to three. He added that Cole works to better himself everyday.
“That dude works hard,” Allen said. “I’m a guy that’s in here all the time. I always see him in there putting in extra time. Obviously he probably wasn’t happy with the playing time he got last year, and I think his attitude was ‘whatever it takes, I’m getting on the floor this year.’”
YSU had to sit Shawn Amiker for Cole to start, and Cole said Amiker doesn’t mind.
“Shawn just wants to win,” Cole said. “He’s not a selfish player. As long as we’re winning, and as long as he’s helping out any way he can, I feel like Shawn will be happy about it. Whatever it takes to end the season the right way.”