The Penguins reload after historic season
Dom Roselli’s 1962-63 Youngstown State team won an impressive 24 games and was one of many examples of the success of Penguins basketball in their early history. Nobody knew that it would take 60 years for a Youngstown State squad to match that wins feat.
That’s exactly what happened, though, in the sixth season of the Jerrod Calhoun era, riding an explosive offense that featured All-Horizon League first teamer Dwayne Cohill, third teamer Brandon Rush and All-Freshman pick John Lovelace, along with a slew of weapons carefully picked from the transfer portal. It was good enough for the Penguins to take the regular season crown, and while they were thwarted in the semifinals of Horizon League Tournament by eventual champs Northern Kentucky, they made only their third post-season appearance in their Division I history, hosting Oklahoma State in the NIT, eventually falling, 69-64.
With most of the roster gone to graduation or transfer, the defending Horizon League Coach of the Year looked back to the transfer portal to once again find the same gems that led Youngstown State to the upper echelons on the conference last season. And while Cohill was the Penguins’ center of gravity the past two seasons, it will be Rush, who himself emerged as a league star, who will take that mantle. That said, the mix of freshmen and transfers will give Calhoun plenty of options to complement Rush.
“We have a lot of good players, so he (Rush) won’t have to do it all, ” Calhoun said. “We have 10-11 guys. We’re going to play a lot of different guys a lot of different ways.”
Brandon Rush – There can be little doubt that the native of Warrensville Heights, Ohio will be the Penguins’ go-to guy this season. The former Farleigh Dickinson Knight averaged 13.8 points per game in an extremely backcourt rotation last season, and he’ll certainly look to expound on that productivity this season. The fifth-year senior also proved himself to be dangerous from beyond the arc, shooting at a 36.9% clip. Add in his ability to slash in the paint, and it’s no wonder that he’ll be the first player Calhoun looks to in big game situations.
John Lovelace – Even amid the depth Youngstown State had up and down the bench last season, Lovelace, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, still made a name for himself in the rotation. While his 4.3 ppg and 2.1 rpg may not sound like much, he did see critical minutes throughout the year, highlighted, ironically, by the nine boards he grabbed against the team from his hometown, Milwaukee. Expect to see much most from Lovelace, with a year of experience under his belt.
Ziggy Reid – Ever since moving to Division I, Merrimack has been tearing up the competition in the NEC. One of those players responsible for Warriors’ early success during the transition to Division I was the 6-6 Reid, who scored 1,183 points in his four years there. With an extra year, the Baltimore native will be a key piece of the Penguin attack, both for his ability to score and clean up the glass.
Brett Thompson – With Bryce McBride out of eligibility and Shamar Rathan-Mayes transferring, Calhoun was on the hunt for another point guard. One of his finds in the transfer portal was Thompson, who spent time in the junior college ranks before landing with Tennessee Tech. The 6-1 guard made an impact with the Golden Eagles, not only with his ball-handling, but also with his ability to grab rebounds as well.
DJ Burns – Adrian Nelson was a monster on the glass, and with his departure, Youngstown State needed someone to fill his shoes. Enter Burns, whose last campaign with Murray State saw him average 6.6 rebounds per game, good enough for eight in the MVC. He was particularly effective on the offensive glass, ranking 65th in the NCAA in that category. Joining the Penguins for his extra year, he will be looked at to continue where Nelson left off.
Bryson Langdon – Most Horizon League fans were certain that Langdon, who we last saw as the starting point guard for Northern Kentucky, had graduated and moved on. In fact he had, as Calhoun mentioned that he was teaching high school in his hometown of Chicago after his time with NKU. It was a surprise to all, then, when his named appeared in the transfer portal and his landing spot was that of his former teammate Nelson at YSU. The fifth-year senior will give the Penguins a 1-2 punch at the point with Thompson, as Langdon had provided the Norse with superior ball handling during his time there and aims to do the same at his new address.
“He’s been tremendous,” Calhoun said. “He’s been one of our most consistent players and have experience in leadership. It’s been incredible to see his approach.”
Immanuel Zorgvol – Langdon will have a familiar face with him in the rotation as Zorgvol, the seven-footer, was a fellow Northern Kentucky Norse as well, albeit redshirted when Langdon last played there. It was expected that had he stayed at NKU, the native of Suriname was to have a much bigger role in the frontcourt. Now, that role will shift to Youngstown, where he will provide the Penguins with a big-man option in the frontcourt that they hadn’t had in years past.
Jaylen Bates – The Florida A&M transfer will be another key piece in the frontcourt rotation, as his numbers with the Rattlers, specifically on the boards (7.1 per game) nearly match his teammate Burns. Depending on the opponent, don’t be surprised if Calhoun opts to put both of them in the starting lineup from time to time.
EJ Farmer – There have been a fair share of YSU players that have hailed from Northeast Ohio, and Farmer, who’s from Cleveland Heights and spent the last two years at Toledo, joins Rush, among others, as part of that fraternity. Having shot 52.8% from the field and over 40% from three-point range, there’s a good chance that opponents will see him coming in to provide some firepower for the Penguins.
Gabriel Dynes – Of the incoming freshman coming into YSU, the 7-2 Dynes, from Simon Kenton High School in Kentucky, is likely to make the biggest impact. Having gained 30 pounds in the off-season, Dynes, along with Zorgvol, will provide, as a Calhoun put it, a distinctive size advantage that is rare within the Horizon League.
Much like the year before, Youngstown State has pinned its success on the production that players from the transfer portal will bring. While this created an incredible dynamic for the Penguins last season, they will have to gell as a team much in the same way they did in the previous campaign. As the teams at the top of the conference have gotten better as well, YSU will need the time to become a cohesive unit as fast, if not faster, as their opponents will be eager to keep the Penguins from reaching the top again.
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