Men's Basketball Hopes Offseason Prep Work Pays Dividends in 2011-12

YSU Men's Basketball vs Wright State
YSU Men's Basketball vs Wright State

2011-12 Online Media Guide

At the team's annual media day prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Youngstown State Head Coach Jerry Slocum said that basketball players are made in the summer and the offseason.  

If that, indeed, is the case, the Guins have every reason to be optimistic as the season approaches.

"This is a group of young men that have made a major, major commitment to the offseason, our summer program and to our fall workouts," Slocum said.

After battling through 16 games decided by 10 points or less last season, the Guins committed themselves to an even more rigorous offseason strength and conditioning program, and, for the first time, participated in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club's Pro-Am Summer League.

Eleven players on this year's squad played in the summer league and competed against some of the top players from the top schools in the nation, including Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Duquesne and Robert Morris.

Not only did the Guins compete, several players excelled in the league. Senior DuShawn Brooks led the Guins in scoring with 15.5 points per game while sophomore Kendrick Perry and junior Blake Allen averaged 14 and 11.3 points per game, respectively.

The trio also ranked second, third and fourth in 3-point field-goal percentage in the summer league. Allen was second in the league at .438, Perry was third at .417 and Brooks was fourth with a .411 3-point percentage.

Coupled with the offseason dedication and summer success, the Guins return four starters and eight letterwinners from last year's battle-tested squad.

"I think this group paid its dues last year, I believe, in terms of this group growing up, especially our freshman and sophomores," Slocum said. "These guys know what Horizon League basketball is about. They know about the challenges ahead of them physically in an obviously very, very good league."

The Guins did lose their leading scorer from a season ago in Vytas Sulskis, who averaged 13.1 points per game, but they also return 63.3 percent of their scoring and 67.7 percent of their 3-point field goals made.

Slocum also said that the returning players give the squad some stability.

"I'm not going to hide the fact that I like our balance, I like our work commitment, I like their attitudes, I like how they like each other," Slocum said.

Backcourt
The backcourt gives the Penguins leadership, depth, versatility and several scoring threats. Of the 14 players on the roster, eight are listed as guards and have to capability to play more than one position which gives Slocum some flexibility.

Last season, Allen and Kendrick Perry ranked first and second in the Horizon League in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio. The combined for 196 assists and just 91 turnovers.

The Guins perimeter also set school records for most 3-pointers made (235) and most 3-pointers attempted (708).

The Ones
Allen moves into the starting point guard role after starting last season coming off the bench. The 6-foot-1 Tampa, Fla., native became the starting point guard after 13 games and turned in an outstanding second half of the season.

Over the last 17 games of the year, Allen averaged 10.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He scored 172 of his 212 points in those games and shot 42.4 percent (39-of-92) from 3-point range during that time.

Sophomore Nate Perry, who connected on 38.5 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, and freshmen DJ Cole and Danny Reese will also compete for time at the position.

Cole, who was a third-team all-state selection, averaged 13 points, six assists and four steals per game and shot 63 percent from the field as a senior.

Reese was an honorable mention all-state selection as a senior.

The Twos and Threes
Kendrick Perry, who started at the team's point guard a year ago, slid over to the "off-guard" slot midway through last season and found a home.

Perry, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against National-Runners-Up Butler and hit another buzzer beater to force overtime against Valparaiso, averaged nine points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, which ranked fourth in the Horizon League.

Senior Ashen Ward was named team captain and is slated to start at the "three."

Ward averaged 8.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season and led the squad with 50 3-pointers made. His 1.7 3-pointers made per game ranked tied for eighth in the Horizon League.

He also became the first player since 2006-07 to make at least 50 treys in a season.

Ward connected on seven 3-pointers for a career-high 26 points in a 71-69 win over UIC.

Redshirt freshman Shawn Amiker, Nate Perry and sophomore Mike Podolsky will also battle for playing time in this rotation.

Amiker, Jr. averaged 18.7 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game as a senior and led Ferndale to an undefeated regular season and a conference title in 2010.

Podolsky, who played in six games last season, finished his career as Canfield's second-leading all-time scorer with 940 points and set the school's single-game records for most points with 41 and most field goals with 17.

Frontcourt
The Penguins' frontcourt is more experienced and athletic than in years past.

Headlining this crew is Brooks and junior Damian Eargle at the "four" and "five."

Brooks slides into the starting role after coming off the bench as the sixth man last season. He averaged six points per game but displayed a scoring acumen when he posted a career-high 20 points in a 64-61 win over Samford.

Eargle showed the league he is one of the top forwards in the circuit averaging 11.3 points and six rebounds per game and leading the league with 91 blocked shots.

Sophomores Josh Chojnacki and Chris Morgan, redshirt freshman Fletcher Larson and true freshman Cale Zuiker will provide the frontcourt multiple options and depth.

Chojnacki, a 6-foot-9 post, appeared in 19 games and posted a team-best .846 free-throw percentage.

Morgan was a three-year letterwinner at Mathews High School and was the first player from Matthews to be named Trumbull County Player of the Year.

Larson, a 6-foot-8 forward, was named First-Team All-Western New York and led Jamestown High School to a sectional championship in 2010.

Zuiker, a 6-foot-9 forward, was a three-year letterwinner at Marshfield High School and a two-time first-team all-conference selection. He was named all-state by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. He also set Marshfield's career record for most 3-pointers with 123 in just 65 games.