BUFFALO, NY — There is a palpable excitement surrounding Youngstown State’s men’s basketball program. Now the Penguins want to prove that the excitement – both inside and outside of their program – is warranted.
That journey begins tonight when Youngstown State visits Canisius at each team’s season opener (7:30 p.m. ESPN+, 570 AM WKBN).
“I think the guys are ready to go,” YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun said during media availability last Tuesday. “If you have the time over the summer to work with your team … and you get your two scrimmages, I think the guys are in a place where they’re definitely excited.”
YSU was picked for fifth place in the Horizon League in the league’s preseason poll, but realistically teams 1 through 5 could each take the league crown.
Cansius, meanwhile, is at the other end. The Golden Griffins were picked last of 11 teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason poll after the offseason roster change that included the move of forward Malek Green from Canisius to YSU.
However, the Golden Griffins do have guard Jordan Henderson, a Cincinnati native who was named to the All-MAAC Preseason Second Team. He started in all 32 games Canisius played last season and averaged 11 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. A season ago, he was shooting 33 percent from 3-point range and hitting a team-high from beyond the arc with 61 shots.
Henderson was the Golden Griffins’ second-top scorer a season ago behind Armon Harried, who joined Binghamton. The team’s third goalscorer was Green, who is set for some sort of homecoming.
With an otherwise relatively young squad, Canisius picked up a handful of transfers to try and add some experience to their ranks. Guard TJ Gadsden joins from George Mason, where he played in eight games, and Jamir Moultrie, also a guard, joined from Kennesaw State where he played in 25 contests and averaged 7.7 points per game.
Michael DiGiulio joined Canisius after also playing sparingly for two seasons at Kent State.
In the front seat, Frank Mitchell joins Canisius of Humber College (Toronto, Canada) to bolster a unit that also includes returnee George Maslennikov, who played 25 games last year.
The teams met at the Beeghly Center last season, a game in which YSU had its best defensive performance of the year with a 71-43 win over the Griffs. That was Youngstown State’s first win in the teams’ seven-game streak.
Noting that YSU spent most of its week last week cleaning things up from their recent preseason scrimmage, Calhoun began Canisius-specific preparations on Friday.
“It’s hard to believe. We’re playing six games in 14 days, so those last four drills are really crucial to get into those games,” he added.
The coach also noted that he spent both scrimmages playing with different lineup combinations and was still sorting his options on Tuesday.
That’s perhaps no surprise, given that the Penguins have been welcomed into four transfers — Adrian Nelson (Northern Kentucky), Brandon Rush (Fairleigh Dickinson), Bryce McBride (Eastern Michigan) and Green (Canisius) — along with new signing John Lovelace Jr .(Milwaukee, WI).
They join a lineup that includes returnees Dwayne Cohill, an All-Horizon League First Team preseason selection, Shemar Rathan-Mayes, Garrett Covington, Will Dunn and others.
Although the team is still filling out in terms of chemistry, it is a unit that brings a lot of experience and depth to bear.
Calhoun noted, “I have a feeling we have eight or nine people that could start. Our program is currently in a very competitive environment.”
That could prove crucial early on, with YSU playing seven of their first nine away from Youngstown.
“It’s a difficult thing to do,” Nelson said. “Just going into a hostile environment and playing at a different school, but I think it will be a good test and help us build our team chemistry when faced with such adversity. … I think that will really help us build early in the year.”
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