Calhoun Thinks WVU Is Improving
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jerrod Calhoun spent five years on Bob Huggins’ West Virginia men’s basketball staff (2008-12), and for most of that time, he generally remained secured to the bench.
But after five seasons as the head coach at Fairmont State University and now two at Youngstown State, Calhoun rarely sits during a game.
Saturday at his old WVU Coliseum stomping grounds, he constantly paced in front of the visitor’s bench, instructing and pleading with his Penguins to try to keep up with the bigger, stronger Mountaineers.
His young YSU club, which started three freshmen and a sophomore against West Virginia, stayed close for much of the first half. But an 11-0 WVU run in the waning minutes of the first period allowed the Mountaineers to open up a 55-37 lead at the midway point. The second half proved to be more of the same for WVU, which pulled away to a 106-72 victory.
Despite the 34-point loss, Calhoun saw some things his Penguins could build upon.
“I thought it was a great learning experience for our ballclub,” said the 37-year-old Calhoun, who was 124-38 in his five seasons with the Division II Fighting Falcons before moving up to the D-I level in 2017. “I told our guys that hopefully they get an idea what a program means to not only a city but an entire state. We want to build a culture in Youngstown like they have here at West Virginia, playing for something bigger than yourself.
“We’re very young,” continued Calhoun, whose 2018-19 squad fell to 3-6 with the loss to WVU. “I think at the end we had five freshmen out there. It is what it is. We’re only going to get better from this. We fouled too much. I thought we got some pretty good shots, and normally we shoot it better. It’s a learning experience every day. Building a program is tough, but it’s fun.”
Because he spent four years as Huggins’ director of basketball operations and then one as his assistant coach, Calhoun has as special insight into West Virginia’s team, above and beyond the typical opposing coach. That’s why his scouting report on the Mountaineers can provide more depth than others.
“I see Huggs’ group getting better and better,” noted Calhoun. “They lost a couple pretty good players from last year in Jevon (Carter) and Daxter (Miles). I could see his team getting better and better watching the tapes.
“Earlier in the year they were struggling with turnovers. I think their assist-to-turnover ratio was 97-92 coming into this game, but they passed the ball much better tonight (WVU had just nine turnovers to go with 20 assists). They also ended up making 11 threes, so when they pass it well and hit shots, they’re pretty good. That’s what they did tonight.”
Individually Calhoun said junior point guard Beetle Bolden needs to provide leadership for the Mountaineers.
“Beetle is their guy,” he said. “He’s got to be their leader; he has to be their guy. Esa (Ahmad) is a great player, but he’s quiet on the court. Beetle has to be that voice. If he can get going, he can lead them a long way.”
His film study also gave Calhoun an appreciation for the potential of WVU’s freshman forward Emmitt Matthews.
“I think the Matthews kid is really good,” said Calhoun, who is 11-30 since taking over YUS prior to last season. “He reminds me of someone like Da’Sean (Butler) and some of the guys from that group. That kid is going to get better and better.”
Losing is never easy, even if the coach on the other bench is your friend and mentor. But after playing WVU, Calhoun said he becomes a Mountaineer fan again, quickly pointing out that West Virginia is his second favorite team, behind only the one he is coaching.
“We played them in our year two at Fairmont, so I’m 0-2 against Huggs,” noted Calhoun with a grim chuckle. “It still feels weird to be on the other bench. There are so many people I know who were there watching this game. I just said hello to (former Mountaineer) Kevin Jones. The people here love Huggs, and I think that’s why he is so perfect for this place. His personality fits perfectly here because of his toughness and work ethic. I respect everything he stands for, what he’s built and what he’s going to continue to build.”