By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
With just over a minute to go in an eventual 79-66 loss to the University of Charleston, the life in Joe Retton Arena was almost non-existent.
Not long afterward, the life in the locker room of Fairmont State’s men’s basketball team matched the empty court just a hallway away.
Second-year coach Jerrod Calhoun sat at his desk inside of his office as he talked to media, coming to a harsh realization.
“We're probably a year away,” he said.
His Falcon team seemed to struggle all game against the Golden Eagles, but any young team is going to take its licks.
With just two seniors on this year’s team, growing pains, as well as physical pains, have taken a toll on Fairmont State. With reality sinking in, Calhoun said that the team has a long way to go.
“The reality of the situation is with all the injuries we’ve had, all the growing up we need to do, we’ve got to find five or six guys that we're going to bring back for next year that are going to be really good and then go out and get some Division I transfers, some upperclassmen. We’ve got two really good freshmen coming in that I feel really good about and then (we’ve got to) go get some high school guys that can come in and compete,” he said.
It’s no secret that the team has seen its share of struggles this season with senior forward Brendan Cooper missing most of the season with injury, freshman guard Caleb Davis having been out the past few weeks with an infection and various other injuries floating around.
“It’s been a very trying year for a second-year head coach, though I've been around a long time. I’ve never seen anything like it with all of the injuries,” Calhoun said. “Practices have been terrible because of the injuries. You don't have guys healthy. It's been a nightmare, honestly.”
But through all of that, two players, Thomas Wimbush and Stevie Browning, have stepped up their level of play.
In Saturday’s loss, Wimbush led the team with 17 points while Browning scored 14. But that wasn’t the stat Calhoun was most concerned about.
“Those two are good players, a freshman and a sophomore, but the thing that bothers me with those two guys is their turnovers. You can say they had a great game, but they had eight turnovers. To me that's not a great game,” Calhoun noted. “When two guys continue to turn the ball over three and four and five times, sometimes six, like Stevie tonight I think had six turnovers, they’re going to go score. For them guys to become good players and beyond, you can't turn the basketball over.”
Though the Falcons won the turnover battle in Saturday’s game, FSU turning the ball over 15 times to Charleston’s 22, turnovers that lead to easy buckets have hurt Calhoun’s team all season.
“It's every game. Today we were 15 and 15. That's the best we've done all year,” Calhoun said. “If you look at our team stats, our assist-to-turnover ratio is absolutely atrocious, and that bothers me. That makes us look like we can't coach. We've got them buying into rebounding, although tonight we get crushed on the glass by eight, but our turnovers have killed us all year.”
To fix that, Calhoun said, practices have to get harder, coaching has to get stronger and players’ attitudes have to change.
“With the kids these days and the attitudes these days, you've got to coach them hard. You pamper them and tell them how good they are, you can't do that,” the coach said. “We've got to go at them hard every single day and teach them, get them to watch tape.”
Calhoun noted that he’s seen improvements from the start of the season but that his team isn’t quite there yet, already losing as many conference games as it did just a season ago.
“The improvement is in Shamm(god Wells) and Thomas and Stevie; those guys will be here next year,” he said. “Those guys will be the face of our program.”
FSU still has 11 regular-season games left this season to take control of the mistakes and to gear up for postseason play, something that Calhoun has stressed each and every day to his players, telling them that they need to win games to get into the NCAAs.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.