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Calhoun: Time is now to invest in YSU hoops

Staff file photo / Greg Macafee Youngstown State men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun shouts out direction to his players during their road matchup against Cleveland State.

YOUNGSTOWN — Fresh off his best season since taking over Youngstown State men’s basketball, Jerrod Calhoun already is turning to what’s next.

The Penguins wrapped their season up Wednesday night, finishing 24-10 overall and making their debut in the NIT by way of a Horizon League regular season title.

But, Calhoun says, sustaining that success and taking further steps will require investment.

“I think there’s got to be a commitment,” Calhoun said. “It starts right now — we don’t have time to waste. We need to upgrade this arena (the Beeghly Center) in the worst way. The portal is open. … We have to get players, we have to retain players. And I think the next thing is the NIL — name, image and likeness.”

To that end, Calhoun said he and his staff have met with a handful of prospective newcomers already, and one thing continues to lead the conversation.

“The first thing they ask is, ‘Where’s your (NIL) collective money? Where do you guys stand in your league?'” Calhoun noted. “So we need support. And the support sometimes is money, and that’s the bottom line. So we’ll be 100 miles an hour raising money for an arena, but the first thing is we have to attack this portal, because we did a heck of a job last year with it. So it can be done again.”

That, of course, is the new age of collegiate athletics and recruiting. And whether fans like it or not, both the NIL and the transfer portal are here to stay.

As of Friday evening, 576 Division I players have entered the portal, according to VerbalCommits.com, a site which tracks recruiting and transfer portal movement. That’s over the course of less than a week, as the portal opened Monday. YSU had not yet lost any players to the portal, but has shown interest in several.

“Everybody says we’ll be in a rebuild, but I think all 11 teams (in the Horizon League) will be in a rebuild,” Calhoun said. “We’ll see what happens over the next two or three days with the portal. You’ll have players that you don’t think will leave you, same thing with other teams. The whole landscape has changed.”

For the most part, Calhoun says YSU has plenty to sell prospective student-athletes. The Penguins have built a winning program, had the third-best attendance mark in the Horizon League this season and played an exciting, high-scoring style.

“There’s a lot of things involved in the recruitment of student-athletes,” he said. “Here, we can sell that we have the best fanbase in this area. We draw more than a lot of MAC schools, we draw more than (a majority) of the Horizon. So if I’m a player, why would I not want to come here? It’s free-flowing — we score 82 points a game. We treat these guys great. The coaches and the administration are top notch.

“We fundraise, and we run this thing as close to a high major as we can, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to come to Youngstown, Ohio, right now.”

But, of course, facility upgrades and stable NIL money never hurt, either, in what’s become an arms race across collegiate athletics.

As far as NIL funds go, a new collective called The Penguin Collective has formed to aid in those efforts. Youngstown State also is conducting an NIL townhall 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the DeBartolo Stadium Club inside Stambaugh Stadium to help spread awareness and information about how the NIL landscape can be built at YSU.

“Somebody’s got to commit financially, whether that’s a donor or whoever, to help us get to where we need to go,” Calhoun said. “Whether that’s through a new arena, whether that’s through the NIL money, that’s what it is, because we have everything we need here. We’ve got to see if we can get it done.”

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