YSU looking to build off best season in HL history
Just a year ago, the Youngstown State University men’s basketball team looked like a team hanging in the balance. Could it have been a great team? Possibly. Could it have also been terrible? Also, yes.
In all, the Penguins had a great season in comparison to history. This Penguins team could’ve laid down and sulked in the fact that it lost its starting point guard, Darius Quisenberry, to Fordham and its best rebounder in school history, Naz Bohannon, to Clemson.
This team didn’t lay down despite the losses in the transfer portal it took. YSU and head coach Jerrod Calhoun found ways to win even with a young roster. So many things went the Penguins way after having a youth movement that the Penguins arguably won the transfer portal in the conference by adding tons of veteran presence.
Last year truly was a banner year to be a part of the YSU program. The Penguins secured three consecutive winning seasons from a stretch from 1982-1985. The Penguins were in the Ohio Valley Conference for your information. It also won a school-record 12 Horizon League games and won its most games (19) since 2001.
That was also the most wins in one season since joining the Horizon League. It was also this team’s first postseason win in nine years while also having multiple all-league performers. Michael Akuchie and Dwayne Cohill both earned all-league honors.
Overall, the Penguins had a great season and because of that, Calhoun and his staff bolstered the roster with known commodities.
DWAYNE COHILL, SHEMAR RATHAN-MAYES, GARRETT COVINGTON, BRANDON RUSH, ADRIAN NELSON
COHILL – After missing his original junior season at the University of Dayton due to injury, Cohill transferred to YSU and absolutely starred in his starting role.
He started all 34 games last year with a team-high 14.9 points per game while adding 4.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.0 steals. The 6-foot-2 senior guard scored double digits in 25 games while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 41 percent from three, and 83.5 percent from the free throw line.
His continued success in this starting unit is most likely the most important part. He was a third team all-league last year. He is the only returner that has held that honor. Michael Akuchie, who graduated, was the other from last year. His scoring ability can win and lose games. Calhoun and staff really need him to use that ability to win games consistently this season.
RATHAN-MAYES – After being thrown in the fire as a freshman, Rathan-Mayes became comfortable in his role as the main guard in the offense. His biggest thing might not be staggering numbers but if you watch enough film, he perfectly keeps this offense flowing in all the right directions.
Rathan-Mayes averaged 8.1 points as a sophomore while adding 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 38.3 percent from three which will need to stay up at that level if the 5-foot-11 guard is to contribute consistently from a pure scoring perspective.
Like all good basketball teams, they all go as their point guard goes. This year, however, Rathan-Mayes won’t be the only reliable point guard. That can allow him to be more of a scorer if he isn’t always trying to keep the flow of offense alive.
COVINGTON – He only played in three games in what was his redshirt senior season. Covington has never been there for his offense but more for defense. He has made three all-league defensive teams and could factor again in that role for the Penguins.
It was evident that his defense was sorely missed at times so hopefully he can get back into the swing of things. It’s like riding a bike and it seems hard to imagine that he can’t ride again.
In those couple of games, he averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. If he can combine with some of the other younger bigs on this team down low, he can make a huge contribution on the boards.
It would only be right that he comes back and finishes his career with YSU in high fashion. There aren’t too many questions about being considered one of, if not the, greatest pure defender in Penguins history. He’s the only player to be put on the all-defensive team three times and could do it for a fourth time.
With the transfer portal now a seemingly every day thing, YSU came away with four transfer students and one high school athlete.
MALEK GREEN – Green started his career with Morehead State back in 2017. The 6-foot-7 graduate senior played two years at Morehead State where he averaged 7.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
After sitting out the 2019-2020 season due to transferring to Canisius, his play truly took off. He won Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year in 2020-2021 as he averaged 13.2 points per game and 7.2 rebounds as a redshirt junior.
As a redshirt senior, Green scored 10.9 points per game while grabbing 4.4 rebounds.
BRYCE McBRIDE – McBride has worked his way up the college hoops ladder to get to this point. He started his career at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tenn. After a full season at MSCC in 2018-19, he attended Dyersburg State Community College in Dyersburg, Tenn. that plays in the same conference together.
At Dyersburg, the 6-foot-2 guard averaged 24.2 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting. He also hit 45 percent from the 3-point line.
After his two years at community colleges, McBride joined the Eastern Michigan University team for the 2020-21 season as a junior.
In his two years at EMU, he averaged 12.5 points per game in 42 games. He also boasted the second-best free throw percentage at 79 percent. That’s a big deal for a team that has notoriously struggled at the line.
ADRIAN NELSON – In what was a shocker to myself and certainly some around the league, Nelson left league foe Northern Kentucky University after four seasons to use his COVID-19 transfer season. He chose YSU to do that with.
The 6-foot-8 forward will spend his extra senior season after four very good years at NKU.
After two seasons as a key bench contributor for the Norse, Nelson found his starting role as a junior and showed all of his skill set. He started all 25 games while averaging 8.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. He shot nearly 69 percent from the field during that season. Nelson parlayed his junior season into a great senior season.
Nelson averaged 6.9 points per game, 7.4 rebounds that included 3 offensive rebounds per game. He finished his NKU as the second-best basket converter at 63.8 percent. He will be a key contributor in the middle for YSU.
BRANDON RUSH – Rush may very well be the best of the bunch in terms of what his role will mean to the team all season long. Rush comes back closer to home after dominating at Warrensville Heights up toward Cleveland. The 6-foot-3 senior guard comes over from Fairleigh Dickinson after three good years there.
As a freshman, Rush averaged 4.9 points per game while starting 11 games for the Knights. After a successful freshman campaign, he started in all but one game as a sophomore. He blossomed into an efficient scorer with 14.3 points per game while hitting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.
As a junior, he had more of the same success. He scored 14.2 points per game while hitting 83.5 percent from the free throw line. Just as Nelson, he will be a key contributor to this team’s offense.
JOHN LOVELACE JR – Lovelace Jr is the only one of the group that doesn’t have any college experience as he’s this class’s only high school signee.
The 6-foot-7 guard/forward combo comes from We Are United Prep in Milwaukee, Wis. after graduating early from Brown Deer High School in Brown Deer, Wis. That’s about 20 minutes north of Milwaukee.
He attended Wauwatosa East High School before that. Finding his stats was very difficult with multiple schools attended. He averaged 17 points and eight rebounds at We Are United Prep last year.
Calhoun touted him as a versatile guy that he believes will have a good career as a Penguin. He will be one of the better young guys in the program.
He boasted offers from Missouri, DePaul, Western Illinois, and Grambling State. He also had offers from HL rivals, IUPUI UW-Milwaukee before ultimately choosing YSU.
“I’m extremely excited about this year’s recruiting class,” Calhoun said. “This class is a deep, talented, and versatile group that has a great mix of experience and youth. Our staff is ecstatic about the combination of our incoming class meshing with our returning players to continue building the positive momentum for our program.”
“Both our staff and players did a tremendous job making each of our recruits feel very comfortable throughout the entire process. Lastly, the group that we have signed are all high character individuals who will be great representatives of our program on and off the court.”
Key Returners (Non-Starters)
JACORI OWENS – The sophomore forward appeared in 11 games with limited runs. He averaged just 2.2 points and 1.2 rebounds. It is possible that he sees an uptick in production if the bench needs a boost. He has the size at 6-foot-9 which puts him at the top of the height chart on this roster.
He could be a key contributor when Calhoun needs size down low.
CHRIS SHELTON – The 6-foot-4 senior guard was a key piece off the bench last year appearing in 30 games while averaging 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds. If Shelton can get some extended runs in games as a mainstay off the bench, he factors into the same success as this team had last year.
JOSH IRWIN – Irwin didn’t play a minute in a redshirt year. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward may make a contribution but there is a lot of added talent. It all depends on if he plays in the early season matchups to determine if he will find some minutes off this deeper bench.
WILLIAM DUNN – Dunn, like Owens, looks to be a key contributor as the 6-foot-8 forward did last year. Dunn played in 25 games while starting in 13 games. He averaged 5.6 points per game while pulling down 3.0 rebounds. He also shot 55.8 percent from the field. Dunn’s potential contributions will be the most important as he earned the trust of Calhoun and his staff. That’s going to be the most important piece of the bench presence.
MYLES HUNTER – The 6-foot-5 junior guard will be YSU’s most important guard off the bench. He stretches the floor with a good ability to shoot and hit threes. Last season, Hunter averaged 5.5 points and 2.9 rebounds. He shot 48.1 percent from the field last year.
Hunter’s size will help this team when other teams need to go smaller, Hunter can remain on the floor to hopefully have a good size advantage.
MICHAEL AKUCHIE – As the only major loss from last year’s roster, Akuchie’s ability to stretch the floor was a big part of the Penguins success. He averaged 9.9 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent. He also broke YSU’s and the Horizon League’s single game rebounding record with 24 against Robert Morris on Feb. 6.
His presence in the paint as well as at the 3-point line will be missed terribly on this team. We will see if someone can step up in this role early in the season.
TEVIN OLISON – Olison’s ability to score in that starting unit will be tough to make up for in the beginning. Olison complimented Cohill and Akuchie much better than a lot expected at first. He averaged 12.6 points per game while hitting 36.6 percent from three. He also pulled down 4.4 rebounds and averaged over a steal per game.
The ability to pull down nearly five rebounds and play great defense is going to be missed within the flow of both sides of the ball for the Penguins.
This team has all the makings of a team that could win the whole thing and make its first NCAA tournament appearance. This team can also be a bottom tier team in the league.
There are a lot of moving pieces that need to click properly in order for this team to be a top-4 team in this league. Ultimately, that’s the area this should aspire to be at. There are a few teams that will certainly keep them from that top spot.
As we all know, there’s a chance that anybody’s season can go way up or way down. This program certainly went out and found guys that should contribute immediately which it didn’t have last year. Last season, the Penguins brought in a lot of youth which mixed with this year’s veteran presence could bode well for this team.
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