Team preview: Youngstown State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Youngstown State is still looking for its first success since joining the Horizon League. Sixteen league wins in five seasons is a depressing bottom line. Four conference wins last winter doesn't sound like much, and it wasn't -- the Penguins finished last in the league standings.

And yet, it marked progress. In fact, the Penguins doubled their league victory total from 2004-05 when they went 2-14 and got coach John Robic a ticket out of town. New coach Jerry Slocum was used to winning (179-78 at Gannon) so his first season at Youngstown required a different mindset. The Penguins won only seven games, the last of which came on Jan. 28. February was a black hole.

"We knew when we got here the challenge ahead," Slocum said, "but that never softens the pain of having to go through a year like that. You see progress, but you don't see the benefit of all your progress in the wins and losses column.

"But we thought we made some very healthy strides. For one thing, the infrastructure is so much better -- the locker rooms, the offices. We've got better work habits, our fundamentals are better. The level of play and the quality of kids we're recruiting, I believe all that is on the up-tick."

One bright light shining through the haze was 6-4 senior guard Quin Humphrey (19.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg). Humphrey led the Horizon League in scoring and rebounding, earned first-team all-conference and established himself as a leading candidate for Horizon player of the year in 2006-07. The question is whether Youngstown can garner enough respect to sustain Humphrey's candidacy.

Humphrey was Mr. Do-It-All last year, and more of same will be required. He shot 49.6 percent from the field, 74.0 percent at the free-throw line and .373 from three-point range. In one mid-season rampage, he scored 32 at UIC, 33 at Loyola and came home for 31 against Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Ellenwood, Ga., product missed double figures in only one game and scored at least 20 points 11 times. He was the first player to lead the league in scoring and rebounding since 1992. Humphrey may have worn down late in the season as the double teams and box-and-ones took a toll. He needs his teammates to provide enough help this winter so that script won't be repeated. He has also worked hard in the weight room to prepare his body for the pounding and grabbing to come.

Humphrey's rebounding borders on the amazing. It's part vertical leap and part court smarts -- being able to anticipate where a shot will come off the rim. And don't discount pure hustle.

"Everybody's going to be coming to stop him," Slocum said. "We've talked about the mental preparation and mental toughness he has to have. We'll use him very similar to what we did last year. We're gonna push it to him and post him up and allow him to isolate a little bit, too. I think our system has helped him develop into the player he is. Now we've got to let him go and get out of the way."