By Joe Scalzo
The first question posed to Youngstown State senior Kendrick Perry at Thursday’s media day was about preseason awards.
His first answer was about postseason games.
“As I’ve been saying the whole offseason, my main focus is on a championship in March, that Horizon League championship,” he said. “What’s going to define me is a championship for my team.”
While the Penguins graduated their career leaders in blocked shots (Damian Eargle) and 3-pointers (Blake Allen), they return three starters from last year’s 18-16 team that advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
The best of those three is Perry, a two-time first team all-conference guard who is favored to earn Horizon League preseason player of the year when voting is revealed Wednesday.
The four-year starter already ranks in the top 10 in YSU history in steals, assists, 3-pointers and free throws and is 17th in career points. He’s also the team’s most outspoken player, the one who sets the tone for the program on and off the court.
“He’s a leader, a vocal leader,” said senior forward Kamren Belin, who made the Horizon League’s all-newcomer last year. “What he does on the floor is great for us. It makes my job easier.”
Belin (6-foot-7) and sophomore Bobby Hain (6-10) will shoulder a bigger defensive load in the frontcourt, a job that previously fell to the rangy Eargle, the Horizon League’s defensive player of the year last winter. Although undersized, both Perry (6-0) and junior D.J. Cole (5-11) are terrific defenders and junior Shawn Amiker Jr. has the size (6-5) and athleticism to be an above average win defender.
“We’re not going to lead the country in blocked shots,” YSU coach Jerry Slocum said. “So we better be better than we’ve ever been defensively because we don’t have a guy back there that’s going to bail us out.”
Offensively, YSU will continue to play its fast-paced style, although the Penguins probably won’t shoot as many 3-pointers as they did with Allen.
“I’m very confident in our offensive abilities,” said Perry, who led the Horizon in scoring two years ago. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have to lock people down to win games.”
Most observers, including Slocum, believe Wright State is the preseason favorite, with Green Bay and Cleveland State also in the mix. But if YSU’s younger players can develop — Slocum believes this is the most talented overall roster he’s had — the Penguins might be able to make a tournament run.
“Do I think we have questions? I think we do,” Slocum said. “I like our answers right now.
“Obviously, the whole situation with our league is who’s playing best in February gets a chance to win it. That’ll be our goal.”