By Michael Evanko
While the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team’s regular season is still a long way off, the Penguins got an early start to the season playing three games of exhibition ball in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Penguins coach Jerrod Calhoun is excited about this opportunity to get real game experiences this early in the season.
“I think the competition is going to be really good,” Calhoun said in a press conference before the team left. “We’re playing the University of Calgary. They’re a Canadian team who was 29-2 last year, although they lost four out of six guys. Then we play the host school that played Northern Kentucky in their trip last week.”
While the games did not affect the win-loss records of the teams involved, Calhoun and his players knew that the games are an opportunity to see where the team is at early in the season, especially on defense.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on defense, so hopefully we see our defensive numbers take a jump,” he said. “We’ve talked about that all offseason. I’m anxious to see the defense; they may be anxious to see another team, but I’m anxious as a coach to see where our defense stands.”
Junior Naz Bohannon was right in tune with Calhoun when discussing how important this trip is for the Penguins.
“Defense is probably the main priority over there,” Bohannon said. “We know we can score the ball, run, get up and down. [We can] take as many shots, but just everybody buying in and keeping the ball on one side, having somebody low. Let’s see how many charges we can take over there, just personal things like that.”
Senior guard Donel Cathcart III echoed the sentiments of his teammate.
“Coach emphasized defense a lot this summer,” he said. “Last year wasn’t so much focused on defense, but this year you have to communicate on defense if you want to be a good team. I feel like our communication is great; everyone out there knows that we have to talk if you want to play. It’s being a part of one another.”
Calhoun and his players know how important this stretch of games is for the team’s chemistry, not only on the court but off the court, as well.
“Basketball is so different than all these other sports,” Calhoun said. “We really spend a lot of time with our guys; this seems like there is no offseason. I’ve seen great change in all of them.”
He said the team has eight returning players who understand the system.
“You only get to do it every four years,” he said. “There’s a reason they don’t let you do this every year. My message to them has been enjoying every moment and have fun.”
Cathcart said the time he gets to spend with his teammates is what makes him excited.
“Getting to know one another, actually seeing where we are at with the team on the court and even off the court too, excites me,” Cathcart said. “We just want to be a family and enjoy the moment.”
The Penguins swept their three games in the Virgin Islands beating Calgary 74-71 in the first game, 71-59 in the second game and won 90-82 over the U.S. Virgin Islands national team.
There will be a follow-up with the players’ thoughts after the trip in next week’s issue of The Jambar.