Published December 10, 2012
1. Youngstown State played its first men's basketball game at the Covelli Centre on Saturday and you can count me among those hoping this becomes a big-time annual event.
2. I've been covering Penguins coach Jerry Slocum for three years and I can tell you this: He is not a Charles Barkley-type when it comes to interviews. So when he said they were looking to bring in a big-time team like Pitt, Michigan State or Notre Dame for an annual Covelli game, my ears perked up.
Covelli director Eric Ryan then told me they were using their Youngstown connections to land a big name. To me, that means Ohio State. (Note: Ryan never told me OSU, on or off the record). Sam Covelli just gave $10 million to OSU and his name is on the building.
3. Here's the thing about Ohio State: Every school in Ohio wants the Buckeyes to play on their campus. As YSU's marketing director, Rick Love, told me: "If Ohio State plays at Youngstown State, they've got 14 schools in Ohio on the phone the next day asking for the same thing."
But here's the other thing about Ohio State: The Buckeyes might play you at a neutral site. They did so at Gund Arena (not Quicken Loans) when Love worked at Cleveland State. In football, they've played Toledo at Cleveland Browns Stadium (2009) and Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium (2002) and are expected to play next year's spring game at Paul Brown while Ohio Stadium undergoes renovations.
YSU obviously has a close relationship with OSU in football — the Penguins have played the Buckeyes twice in the last decade and are scheduled to play them again in a few years — and while I have no idea whether OSU would actually come here, I also know this: $10 million boosters don't grow on trees.
4. Nothing against Beeghly Center, which is a nice facility, but there's no comparison between YSU's home arena and the Covelli. The Covelli seats about 400 fewer fans (6,300 to 5,900) but it just feels bigger. It also feels like a big-time arena, while Beeghly feels more like a really, really nice high school gym.
The Covelli hired the Cleveland Browns' PA announcer for Saturday's game, they got the fans involved with video board staples like the "Kiss Cam," the "Flex Cam" and the "Dance Cam" and, of course, they sold beer.
In short, it felt more like a Cavaliers game than a YSU game. (There are some drawbacks to that. I hate when people scream into the mic to get the crowd pumped up and if I never hear the phrase "Make some noise!" again, it'll be too soon.)
5. If you're wondering whether YSU would get to the point where it played every home game at the Covelli, the answer is no. Love estimates it costs Cleveland State about $5,000 a game to play at the Wolstein Center. If you're playing 30 home games a year there (between the men's and women's team), that's $150,000. And trust me, YSU doesn't have an extra $150,000 to spend on its basketball teams every year. (Covelli would be a nice little recruiting boost, though.)
6. One other problem: YSU couldn't shoot on Saturday. That's no small thing for a program that's built on shooters. (Iit's easier for Slocum to find quick guards who can make 3s than, say, 6-foot-10 centers with NBA potential.)
Like they do at the Wolstein center, the Covelli curtained off about one-fourth of the arena, which creates an odd backdrop. And while the Covelli has a lot of nice amenities, Beeghly has newer, better baskets and rims.
7. I have no idea whether Beeghly has better food -- YSU feeds the media at home games, typically with Belleria Pizza -- but I can tell you this: I bought a $3.25 "all beef" hot dog at the Covelli and I overpaid by about $3. I'll admit to being a hot dog snob -- I prefer the premium ones made of angus beef -- but that was an empirically lousy hot dog. And a lousy hot dog bun.
8. YSU is 6-4 after 10 games, same as last year. (Last year's Penguins actually started 6-2 before dropping four straight.) But this is clearly Slocum's best team since he's been here.
I've been impressed with Damian Eargle's offensive development (he'll never be as good offensively as he is defensively, but he's become a more consistent threat) and Kendrick Perry is simply tremendous. Blake Allen's shot has been a little off this year but it'll come around.
The two new starters, Shawn Amiker (whose game has matured considerably since last year) and Kamren Belin (who has been up and down but has tremendous potential) have given the Penguins a really balanced lineup. And DJ Cole is a sparkplug off the bench at point guard.
Bobby Hain has had three really good games and a lot of forgettable ones, but kudos to Slocum for living with some of the ups and downs through 10 games. That'll pay off over the next 20.
9. I haven't seen the women play yet, so I can only go by what I've read, but it's hard not to be impressed with their 7-2 start. I remember going to media day about a month before the season started and thinking, "This team could be really, really bad." Boy, was I wrong.
Freshman point guard Shar'Rae Davis has been terrific, filling a huge hole after Kelsea Fickiesen decided not to return after last season. Brandi Brown has been predictably good and Liz Hornberger has made a big jump since last season.
There's no reason why this team can't finish in the top half of the Horizon League.
10. One quick football thought: Pitt will play Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 5, the same day as the FCS national championship game.
If I would have told you on Sept. 1, when YSU beat Pitt, that one of those teams would be playing on Jan. 5, I'm thinking you would have guessed the wrong one. Me too.