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Huggins, Calhoun share mutual respect

YOUNGSTOWN–Jerrod Calhoun first met West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins when he played AAU basketball. Huggins was the coach at the University of Cincinnati at the time.

Calhoun, after playing at Cleveland State for the late Rollie Massimino, became a student assistant for the Bearcats.

Huggins, who coached at Walsh University in the early 1980s, saw that Calhoun was doing a great job at Cincinnati. When an assistant coaching job came open with Walsh, Calhoun went to the Canton school before connecting again with Huggins as his director of basketball operations at WVU.

From there, Calhoun landed at nearby Fairmont State. In his fifth year, the Falcons made it to the NCAA Division II title game.

That led to his current job with Youngstown State, which brings us to Saturday’s WVU vs. YSU game at the Covelli Centre, starting at 1 p.m.

“He’s a basketball guy. He’s a good coach,” Huggins said of Calhoun.

The two coaches have stayed in touch and that relationship is a big reason this game is taking place. Games like these rarely happen.

Huggins explained that Power 5 schools like West Virginia, part of the Big 12 Conference, have to think of the business side of basketball.

Playing in games like Saturday’s normally isn’t beneficial to teams like WVU because they lose a huge financial windfall they would receive if it was a home game on the Morgantown, W.Va., campus.

Huggins said the Mountaineers average 10,000 to 11,000 people per game. Tickets for Big 12 games are $20 to $35 for the upper bowl seating and much higher for lower level and floor seating.

Add that up over 16 home games, which the Mountaineers have this year, and the money adds up quickly. Playing a game at a mid-major school like YSU costs money for a Power 5 school like WVU.

Huggins, who was the coach at the University of Akron in the 1980s, learned that lesson when he wanted to host national power Louisville. He reached out to Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum.

“I wrote a letter to Denny Crum when I was at Akron about trying to get him to come to Akron to play,” Huggins said. “I thought I had all these great reasons. He wrote me back. It was a very great letter, just telling me how much money they made every time they open the doors to Freedom Hall for the athletic department. I started to understand then, that this is very much a business.

“We’ve got two sports that make money. If you think about all the sports we have, there’s two that make money. The rest of them don’t make any money. They lose money. That’s that way everywhere, pretty much.”

YSU and WVU made this situation work out for both teams. The Penguins played in Morgantown last year and will again in 2020 to ensure the Mountaineers come to downtown Youngstown.

“This deal with Youngstown is good for them, obviously, and it’s good for us,” Huggins said.

YSU had to sacrifice two “buy” games in which the Penguins could have made anywhere from $70,000 to $90,000 per game for the athletic department. YSU does not make a return on the games played in Morgantown.

“With a chance to play a Power 5 in your own city, that’s pretty neat for basketball fans and fans of ours,” Calhoun said on Tuesday. “I want to fill it up. Here of late, the ticket sales have picked up. It’s not my department, but that’s what I’ve heard recently.”

This is the third time a Calhoun-coached team has played WVU. He’s 0-2 against the Mountaineers.

“He doesn’t take it easy on you, I can tell you that,” Calhoun said about facing Huggins.

The YSU coach still roots for WVU, except when the Penguins are playing the Mountaineers.

“It’s my second-favorite college basketball team,” Calhoun said. “I watch not only all of their games, but (Huggins) comments after the games. I’m a huge West Virginia fan. It’s going to be exciting.”

Eric Ryan, president of JAC Management, said workers at the Covelli Centre have been busy constructing the floor. The surface usually hosts concerts and games of the United States Hockey League’s Youngstown Phantoms.

Like many multi-purpose arenas, basketball surfaces are temporary courts. That is what the Covelli Centre has in storage, along with hoops, shot clocks, etc.

They have to take out the dasher boards, the bottom surface where the puck careens off and up the ice. The Plexiglas attached above has to come out as well.

Then a surface called a membrane is put down before the 4-foot-by-8 foot sections of floor can be placed together to form the temporary home for both basketball teams on Saturday.

Ryan said on Tuesday this takes time to put this together.

“It takes 20 guys the better part of 8 to 12 hours, depending on how it goes to get the ice covered, get the glass down, dashers down and to install the floor,” Ryan said.

Ultimately, to get Saturday’s game and for YSU to host a Big 12 opponent, it takes a relationship – which Huggins and Calhoun already have.

“It means a lot for him to do it,” Calhoun said. “A lot of coaches wouldn’t do it. He’s just a really genuine guy.”

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