Horizon League Preview: #8 Youngstown State Penguins

[table id=14 /]

Kendrick Perry finished his Youngstown State career as a three-time First Team All-Horizon League selection.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kendrick Perry graduated as one of the best players in Youngstown State history. The three-time First Team All-Horizon League selection arrived in Youngstown when the team was the Horizon League’s cellar dweller and helped turn it into a middle of the pack squad that could beat any team in the league on a good night. At the conclusion of his college career, Perry joined the Orlando Magic’s Summer League roster before signing with the Sydney Kings of Australia’s National Basketball League. While there will be a lot of new starters in the Horizon League this season, few will have bigger shoes to fill than whoever steps in for Perry.

If replacing one of the school’s most accomplished players isn’t enough of a task for the Penguins, the team also loses its second and third leading scorers. Kamren Belin graduated, while Ryan Weber transferred to Ball State. Returning starters DJ Cole and Bobby Hain will be relied on as scorers much more heavily than they were while Perry, Weber and Belin were in the lineup.

[table id=11 /]

Shaun Stewart comes to Youngstown State after one season at Cloud County Community College, where he did a little bit of everything for the Thunderbirds. In addition to being the team’s leading scorer, Stewart finished second on the team in rebounding despite measuring just 6 feet tall. Prior to playing at Cloud County, Stewart spent one season at North Carolina A&T, where he played sparingly but got the opportunity to experience the NCAA Tournament. The other junior college transfer joining Youngstown State this year is Osandai Vaughn. Last year, Vaughn was the second leading scorer at Cape Fear Community College. He helped bring the team to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s National Tournament.

Sidney Umude and Bryce Nickels are a pair of athletic tweener forwards. Each needs to add weight before being viable options in the post, but given the team’s lack of depth one of the two is likely to be inserted into the starting lineup. Both Nickels and Umude attended high school in Florida, a state that has been very kind to the Penguins on the recruiting trail. 2013 graduate Blake Allen, who went to Brandon High School in Tampa, played three seasons for Youngstown State and set both the single season and career records for three pointers made. More recently, departed star Perry and returning starter Hain joined the Penguins after attending high school in the Sunshine State.

[table id=10/]

Cole and Hain are holdovers in the starting lineup and should be two key pieces to Youngstown State having a successful season. Shawn Amiker has experience and size to step into the lineup. The other two spots in the lineup are up for grabs, and may very well end up going to newcomers. Marcus Keene is the returning player with the greatest chance to take one of the final spots. Keene demonstrated that he has the talent to step in and help replace the scoring that the team lost, but after he was indefinitely suspended for breaking Ryan Weber’s nose with a punch in practice, he might not be given the opportunity.

The recruits most likely to contend with Keene for Perry’s spot in the lineup are Vaughn and Stewart. The 6-foot-4 Vaughn gives Youngstown State a lineup with much better size, but head coach Jerry Slocum doesn’t seem to be concerned with that. Last year’s backcourt of Cole and Perry featured two guards under 6-foot-2. Given that Keene’s minutes were decreasing before his suspension and that Stewart plays bigger than his listed height, Stewart is the pick to try and replace Kendrick Perry.

While coach Slocum will likely have a tough time replacing one of the school’s all-time greats, coming up with enough size to compete could prove to be just as challenging. With the departure of Kamren Belin the only returning forward with any real playing experience besides Bobby Hain is Fletcher Larson, but he only played in 20 games during his junior season. This lack of frontcourt depth gives the freshmen forwards the opportunity to battle for a starting job instantly. Umude gets the nod because he’s the higher rated prospect on ESPN, but the difference is negligible so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either of the freshmen get the fifth spot.

Programs across the Horizon League suffered heavy losses this offseason, but Youngstown State’s losses seem to be by far the most significant. Unless there’s another three-time All-Horizon League First Teamer ready to jump into action for the Penguins, this year’s team will likely wind up near the bottom of the league like they did regularly prior to Kendrick Perry’s arrival on campus.

Projected Finish: 8th Place