Rebuilding job at Youngstown brings Calhoun to face his mentor

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As part of a two-for-one basketball series, West Virginia will return Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against Youngstown State with a road game next season.

The Penguins will return to play at the WVU Coliseum in 2020.

“One of the hardest things I’ve found at this level is scheduling,” Youngstown State coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “We’re one of those teams that are being bought [on one-year game contracts], so to have West Virginia come back to our place is a big deal for us.”

It is a deal built from a relationship between West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and Calhoun that stretches back further than Calhoun’s days as the Mountaineers’ director of basketball operations and assistant coach from 2007-2012.

It began with an AAU team in 2002. That’s when the 20-year old Calhoun was still playing college ball for Rollie Massimino at Cleveland State, and during the summer he’d coach the Cleveland Basketball Club on the AAU circuit.

“When he was a 20-year-old guy coaching an AAU team, generally speaking they had more discipline than other AAU teams had,” Huggins said. “They ran good stuff. He didn’t really pay attention that he was only 20-years old.

“Jerrod decided he didn’t have a future as a player and he wanted to be a coach.”

Calhoun transferred to Cincinnati and became a student assistant under Huggins, who helped him land an assistant job at Walsh College. Years later, when Huggins came to West Virginia, Calhoun joined him.

“Huggs had me working on menus for the team, taking care of tickets — I was basically just learning the whole system,” Calhoun said. “When I saw it all working and coming together, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life and I’ll be forever grateful to Huggs for helping me get started.”

Calhoun’s days as a West Virginia assistant grew into becoming a head coach at Fairmont Stat in 2012. By his fifth season, Calhoun guided the Falcons to the Division II national championship game.

“He works,” Huggins said. “Jerrod has done a great job of networking. He’s done a terrific job of getting people on his team. What he did in Fairmont is unbelievable. He went in there and raised money for facilities. He raised scholarship money and recruiting money.”

Reflecting on his Fairmont Starts success, Calhoun, now 37, said: “People think that kind of stuff just sort of happens overnight, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to do so much work when people aren’t looking. That’s kind of how you build success.”

Calhoun is still in the early stages of trying to build success with Youngstown State (3-5).

The Penguins went 8-24 last year and now Calhoun is depending on seven freshmen — including former University High standout Geoff Hamperian, who redshirted last season.

One of his redshirt freshmen: 6-foot-11 John Sally Jr.

“No relation,” to the former Detroit Pistons star, Calhoun said. “That’s one of the first questions I get all the time.”

“We’re still trying to develop as a program. My first year, we had to go with five money games to help make some ends meet. We’re still very early in the process here, but we do have some good things to build on. We were fourth in attendance in our league, so we have the support of our community and that continues to grow.” 

Everyone but Culver practices

Huggins said for the exception of the suspended Derek Culver, the Mountaineers (4-2) had everyone available for practice for a second straight day Friday.

Calhoun’s director of basketball pperations, Mark Richmond, was a student assistant at WVU, but Huggins isn’t worried about Youngstown State knowing the Mountaineers’ plays.

“We’re on TV more than Homer Simpson,” Huggins said. “It’s not hard to get video of us. Everybody we play knows what we’re going to do. It’s not a matter of them knowing; it’s a matter of them trying to stop it.”

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