Brian Dzenis: Will YSU men’s basketball make a move?


During the Horizon League women’s basketball tournament in Detroit last season, a colleague and I had a few hours to burn in between games, so we took a drive to Auburn Hills to check out Oakland University’s Athletics Center O’rena, the home of its basketball teams.

It looks like a fun place to take in a game. The seats stretch down to the grey hardwood floor on all four sides. At 4,000 seats with a low ceiling, the intimate atmosphere works for a Horizon League team. Youngstown State’s Beeghly Center doesn’t have that sort of charm.

The side trip with a very unscientific eye test of one of YSU’s peers’ facilities added to a sobering realization about the YSU men’s basketball program.

Jarrod Calhoun’s job is really hard. It might be one of the hardest in Division I basketball. He will begin his second season coaching the Penguins on Tuesday at Pitt, starting a non-conference schedule that will see YSU at home four times before the calendar flips to 2019 and half of those games won’t be against D-I opponents.

He will play in a league featuring teams with superior facilities and coaches who may make twice as much money as him. For example, Wright State’s Scott Nagy had a base salary of $500,000 as of 2017. Calhoun makes $200,000.

He will have to travel some distance to find recruits to keep building the program, which has no winning tradition. As things currently stand, the Mahoning Valley — which historically isn’t a basketball hotbed — can’t field a starting five, with Wright State’s Mark Hughes (Ursuline), West Virginia’s Derek Culver (Warren Harding) and YSU walk-ons Justin Bofenkamp (Warren JFK) and Cameron Kane-Johnson (Niles) carrying the area’s flag in the highest level of college basketball.

This past offseason, the Penguins saw five players transfer coming off an 8-24 season, leaving just four players with college experience. It’s hard to be overly sad about last season’s contributors like Braun Hartfield, Devin Haygood and Tyree Robinson moving on because let’s be real here: they weren’t taking this team dancing.

The on-court product this year is entirely composed of Calhoun’s guys and if it’s any solace for the cynics, it’s going to take a lot of effort to be worse than last year’s team. It was last in the nation in opposing field-goal percentage at 50.9 percent, which includes allowing a third-worst 40.2 percent from three.

The Horizon League isn’t that scary as 12-23 Cleveland State showed last year by getting within a game of making the NCAA tournament. It won’t take much to become competitive, even with a young roster.

The YSU football team (3-5, 2-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) is limping to the finish line, so there’s a chance for the basketball team to make an impression and show it might be pushing back against all the things weighing it down.

Brian Dzenis covers YSU sports for The Vindicator. Write him at bdzenis@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @brian_dzenis.

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