For an indication of how the first week of practice has gone so far for the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team, just consider this: senior point guard D.J. Cole needed stitches above his right eye following the opening session on Oct. 6.
“It’s been very competitive practices — every single day,” Jerry Slocum, Penguins head coach, said during Monday’s media day.
After losing six players from last years’ team (15-17) — including three starters — and bringing in nine newcomers, Slocum said there are plenty of available minutes waiting to be distributed.
And you better believe the players realize this.
“Everybody in practice is competing,” Jalon Plummer, sophomore guard, said. “Everybody’s trying to play and get minutes. We’re all going hard.”
Bobby Hain, returning starting center, sees it too.
“It’s way more competitive than it was last year,” Hain said. “There are so many people that want to play. So everyday you bring it — it’s all or nothing.”
The Penguins will enter the 2014-2015 season — which begins at home on Nov. 15 against Kent State University — having to replace last season’s top three scorers.
They lost Kendrick Perry, a senior guard, (21.3 points per game) and Kamren Belin, a senior power forward, (11.3 ppg) to graduation, while Ryan Weber, a junior guard, (12.2 ppg) transferred to Ball State.
Returners to potentially fill those spots are Marcus Keene and Plummer, sophomore guards, as well as Shawn Amiker, a senior guard.
Newcomers competing for playing time include Shaun Stewart, a junior guard, Cameron Morse, a freshman guard, Osandai Vaughn and Tyler Warford, sophomore guards, and Bryce Nickels and Sidney Umude, freshman forwards.
“It’s been one of the most interesting early falls that I’ve had because there’s clearly questions,” Slocum said. “But the thing that I like about it is that there are clearly answers.”
As Slocum tries to find those answers, the first week of camp has been mainly about learning the system. And considering the extent of turnover from last spring to this fall, that may be the case for a while.
“Everybody’s getting together and learning as a team — learning the offense and everything,” Hain said. “That’s the biggest thing that we’ve had trouble with so far. But now that time has gone on, it’s getting better. We’re going to be alright.”
Other dribbles from media day…
YSU returns three seniors: Cole, Amiker and Fletcher Larson. That trio, as well as Hain, has taken it upon themselves to replace the leadership of last season’s captain, Perry.
“All three of us are going to have to step up and fill KP’s role,” Hain said. “But any of us can do it. It’s not just focused on one guy.”
With so many young guys, YSU made it a point to hit the weight room hard in the offseason.
“We have a lot of small guards — I’m probably the biggest wing on our team,” the 6-foot-5 Plummer said. “Everybody is trying to get stronger and we’re going to need a lot of that — a lot of strong guards that can play on the wing.”
Quite simply, Slocum sounds excited about his rejuvenated roster.
“We have better size than we have in the past and I think we’re a little more athletic,” he said. “It’s a nice mingle of upperclassmen with some very talented new players that should be exciting to watch play and exciting for me to coach.”