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Penguins working around 2020 chaos

This year has had its share of chaos — COVID-19 pandemic, mask wearing, social distancing and divisive politics.

NCAA basketball teams are about schedules, practices and structure.

Those habitual behaviors have been tested heading into the 2020-21 season, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 25.

The YSU men’s basketball team is no exception. Youngstown State has mandated its basketball players to wear masks while practicing.

The Penguins, who had a breakthrough 18-15 campaign last season, have a strong foothold in the Horizon League this season with plenty of juniors and seniors.

Coach Jerrod Calhoun said players, coaches and managers have COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis. The week before the first game, testing will ramp up to three times a week.

“I think the conference and YSU have done a tremendous job having many meetings in regards to the pandemic,” Calhoun said. “More importantly, our players have done a good job. They’ve all really done a great job wearing their mask and social distancing when they can off the court. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Every week it seems there’s a different announcement or different change at the NCAA level.

“It’s a juggling act, no doubt about it.”

YSU’s first official practice was Oct. 15. The Penguins, as all NCAA teams, have 30 practices in 42 days.

It gives younger players time to absorb the YSU offensive and defensive sets. For returning players, it helps them hone their skills.

The practice time is the Penguins’ sense of normal.

“In the outside world, it’s not very normal right now,” Calhoun said. “We’re used to routine, whether it’s a coach or player or manager. We’re all very routine.

“I think we’re all very excited when we get in the gym and have a chance to practice.

“My theme has been all along, let’s have some fun. Let’s have a lot of fun while we’re competing together. We’re learning. We’re growing. Let’s really take advantage of the two, two-and-a-half hours we have together on a daily basis because it’s really our only normal that we get. It’s a process of getting better each and every day.”

SCHEDULING

The NCAA slate doesn’t start until Nov. 25. That puts YSU’s non-conference schedule in flux.

What is known is the multi-team event at the Beeghly Center with Eastern Michigan, Niagara and SIU-Edwardsville is still on for Nov. 27-29.

Also, YSU is at West Virginia on Dec. 1. That is the completion of three-game set between the Penguins and Mountaineers.

The game against VCU, which was solidified earlier this year, is scheduled for next season.

Calhoun said his team is “still in a holding pattern on two games.”

The schedule could be fluid this season as some teams may have to quarantine when they come in to Youngstown. The Penguins may have to quarantine after coming back from a road trip. Different states have different rules.

“We may have a schedule, but it’s going to be changing,” Calhoun said. “As I told our players, we have to be open to change and embrace change. You could have multiple games that could or could not be played based on a virus.”

The Horizon League schedule hasn’t been announced, but what is known is there are 20 league games for YSU, Robert Morris, Purdue-Fort Wayne, Cleveland State, Wright State, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, Green Bay, Detroit Mercy, Milwaukee, IUPUI and UIC.

Each team will have 10 home games and 10 away games. Teams will host five teams and play at five with back-to-back games.

“A lot of teams are going to it because of the virus,” Calhoun said. “They’re making sure they’re only effecting two teams if something would happen. More importantly, they’re taking precautions.

“I was in favor of the back-to-back. It’s different, but we have to adapt. We have to have depth. That’s going to be demanding. You’re going to have to play more players.”

EXTRA YEAR FOR WINTER ATHLETES

Last week, the NCAA approved an extra year of eligibility for winter athletes.

What does that mean for YSU?

The Penguins have six seniors: Greyson Kelley, Christian Bentley, Jamir Thomas, Naz Bohannon, Michael Akuchie and Garrett Covington.

There are seven other scholarship players on the YSU roster for the 2020-21 season: (Darius Quisenberry, Daniel Ogoro, Alex Vargo, Myles Hunter, Shemar Rathan-Mayes, Cheick Traore and William Dunn).

In the 2021-22 season, NCAA basketball teams can add the same number of scholarships as there are returning seniors. If YSU has all six seniors return, the Penguins have up to 19 scholarship players on its roster. However, for the 2022-23 season, the YSU roster has to be down to 13 scholarship players.

“First, your seniors are at peace knowing we have the year back,” Calhoun said. “It gives your players, including seniors, another year to grow on and off the court. More important, the educational piece. You can have multiple guys working on master’s degrees. To me, that’s really exciting. Now when we have our guys graduating from YSU, they’ll not only have a degree, but a master’s degree. To me, that is a really a neat scenario for guys who have been through so much.”

Along with the extra year of eligibility, the NCAA has a one-time transfer rule for the 2021-22 season.

YSU has three verbal commitments from the 2021 class — Mentor High School’s Luke Chicone, Erie (Pa.) Catholic Prep’s Michael Lucarotti and Josh Irwin, who is with International Sports Academy in Willoughby. Calhoun and his staff cannot comment on verbal commitments until they officially sign.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it unfolds with the ’21 class because a lot of these high school guys could get overlooked for many reasons,” Calhoun said. “Number one, a lot of these teams have everybody coming back now. Number two, the one-time transfer rule is going to go into effect for next year. Everybody around the country, Division I or II, can transfer one time. They have to tell you by a certain date. They can one-time transfer and be eligible to play right away.”

For now, YSU will have to wait and see.

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