Our Towns

Calhoun Tells the World about Penguins Basketball

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For new Youngstown State University men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun, his team is first and foremost a brand.

That brand is defined by what happens on the court – fast-paced play that focuses on fast breaks and high-pressure defense – and off the court. Through his Twitter account, @YSUCoachCalhoun, he’s tweeted daily about the goings-on of his team, other YSU sports and events at the university.

“Social media is a way to showcase your product, your brand. That’s been the common theme among all the coaches around the country that I’ve run into,” he says. “They acknowledge how great social media is. We meet every Monday and talk about how we’re going to reach not only recruits but also fans.”

In any given week, his Twitter account is filled with pictures taken during basketball practice, updates on former players who signed international contracts and quotes from legendary coaches such as the late Chuck Daly, who coached the U.S. men’s basketball “Dream Team” to Olympic gold in 1992. For Calhoun, the social media world is just another court to win on.

“We want to be the most active, the most informative social media team in our conference,” he says. “That was our goal and I think so far, so good.”

It also plays a role in recruiting. By being active on social media, as many high school students are, there’s a greater chance they will see what Calhoun is working for and the environment that surrounds the program – inside and outside Beeghly Center.

“We’re trying to sell our story and he’s done a good job of doing that,” says Ron Strollo, YSU’s executive director of intercollegiate athletics. “We’re excited about his activity and the knowledge he has not just of his program but of the department, the campus and the city.”

One aspect of the culture that Calhoun seeks to instill is valuing community pride alongside the drive to win games.

Over the summer, he brought in YSU President Jim Tressel, former Ohio State University running back and Warren native Maurice Clarett and boxing champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini to discuss leadership and what the Mahoning Valley means to them.

“With our exit meeting for summer camp, that was the biggest highlight of our summer, being able to learn from all these great people that we have in Youngstown,” Calhoun says. “Just hearing their stories and their passion for Youngstown really resonated with our kids.”

On the court, though, is where Calhoun will be judged and things look bright for the Penguins. In five years at Fairmont State, he won 124 games while losing just 38, winning at least 20 games every year, an immediate turnaround from that team’s 8-19 record the year before he arrived. He closed out his time there with an appearance in the NCAA Division II championship, falling to Northwest Missouri State University.

Calhoun, a graduate of University of Cincinnati – he also played for Cleveland State University before transferring there – began his coaching career under Bob Huggins, now the head coach of West Virginia University, who last year took the Mountaineers to the Sweet Sixteen.

It was those experiences, Strollo says, that convinced him Calhoun – born in East Liverpool and reared in Cleveland – was the right pick for the position.

“There were some similarities between Fairmont State and what we have here,” the athletics director says. “With his coaching background with Coach Huggins at West Virginia and being from northeast Ohio, it was important for us to get back to our roots. All those things tied together and were critical for us.”

At YSU, Calhoun inherits a program that ended the 2016-17 season on a high note, defeating Cleveland State and top-seeded Oakland University in the Horizon League tournament in Detroit. YSU finished last year 13-21.

“We wanted to acknowledge the team’s success at the end of last year. We showed them footage of a lot of things Coach [Jerry] Slocum got these guys to do in the tournament,” Calhoun says. “They played really high-level basketball the last few games of the season. We want to build on that.”

This season’s product, the new coach predicts, will be something that excites both players and fans. Fast-paced basketball with an emphasis on the transition game has been gaining steam in the NBA. Now, it’s come to Youngstown.

“We get up and down. There are a lot of dunks, a lot of fast breaks,” he says. “We try to play very fast on both sides. We like to press. We like to create tempo with our defense. We’ll press for 40 minutes.”

The transition to Division I basketball won’t be too challenging, he asserts. The biggest difference will be the staff he works with. At Fairmont, it was Calhoun, an assistant coach and a graduate assistant. Period.

This year’s Penguins staff consists of Calhoun, an associate head coach, two assistant coaches, a director of player personnel, a director of basketball operations and an assistant to the head coach.

“I’ve tried to do a better job of delegating things,” the new head coach says with a laugh. “But from a basketball standpoint, it’s very similar. Our team at Fairmont State probably could have beaten many mid-majors.”

With the talent of the six returning players, including three of the team’s top four scorers in Cameron Morse, Francisco Santiago and Braun Hartfield, Calhoun is bullish.

“We want to win and win right away. We want to win on the court with results and we want to win in the community,” he says. “We want to get out in the community like we’ve never done before to get our brand out there by giving back.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.