By Greg Gulas
With preseason practice set to start Friday, Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum is taking a cautiously optimistic, yet excited approach.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches during their weekly Monday luncheon meeting at Luciano’s Restaurant, Slocum noted that the Horizon League will once again be strong from top to bottom — perhaps even stronger than in seasons past.
“In terms of strength, the Horizon League last year was ranked 12th out of 32 conferences,” Slocum said. “When you play a league foe you’re always in for a competitive game and while we lost Loyola of Chicago to the Missouri Valley Conference, we did gain Oakland University.
“Oakland has been to the NCAA Tournament in past years, so they are an excellent team and one that will be very competitive in the Horizon league.”
The Penguins will open their season Nov. 8 when they travel to Kennesaw, Ga., for the Kennesaw State Owls’ five-team tournament.
As they eye their early November slate, practices will take on added significance.
“The rules have changed in that you now have 42 days in order to get in 30 practices,” Slocum said. “We’ll take more days off but the opportunity for every team to start a little earlier becomes an added bonus.”
In addition to the Owls, the tournament field will also include former Ohio Valley Conference foe Eastern Kentucky, Florida International and Warren Wilson College.
The Penguins open against the host Owls, will next meet Florida International and Eastern Kentucky before playing host to Warren Wilson on Nov. 14 at Beeghly Center.
“The Kennesaw State Tournament is attractive to us because we get to host a game with the host team promising a return trip to our place as well,” Slocum said.
Blake Allen and Damian Eargle have been lost to graduation and this year’s roster is evenly spread, boasting four seniors (Kendrick Perry, Kamren Belin, Josh Chojnacki and Mike Podolsky), four juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen.
Perry, Podolsky and Allen were named to the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) Honors Court which recognized more than 700 collegiate basketball student-athletes nationwide who excelled in academics during the recently completed 2012-13 campaign.
On Oct. 3 at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center, Slocum, Akron coach Keith Dambrot, Kent State’s Rob Senderoff and Cleveland State coach Gary Waters will share a podium for the second annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-off.
The event is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and NABC that empowers coaches, their teams and local communities to make a difference in the fight against cancer.
The event, instituted in 1993, has raised $87 million nationwide to date.
YSU will also hold its annual preseason banquet on Oct. 27 at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Social Hall with former Cleveland Cavaliers great and current broadcaster Austin Carr serving as guest speaker.
Tickets are $35 each or $280 for a table of eight and further information can be obtained by calling the YSU Ticket Office at 330-941-7226.
Next week, Rocco Nero, current superintendent of Lowellville Schools and a member of the OHSAA Northeast District board, will serve as guest speaker.