When Kamren Belin arrived at Youngstown State University last spring to join the men’s basketball team, he had hopes of filling the vacant starting forward position alongside Damian Eargle.
Belin got the opportunity. However, he and Eargle didn’t immediately connect.
“At first, it was rough,” Eargle recalled, laughing.
Nowadays, it’s a different story.
After playing together all offseason and starting on the front line for 19 of YSU’s first 21 games, Belin and Eargle are becoming a formidable duo.
“We played and practiced during the offseason so much that now it just clicks,” Eargle said. “I love having him on the team. He’s a good part of our starting five.”
Between the two, the Penguins are receiving 21.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game from their 6-foot-7-inch men.
“Those guys play off each other well,” said head men’s basketball coach Jerry Slocum.
While Belin and Eargle essentially play the same position, they each have a slightly different skill set.
Although he struggled a bit early on, Belin possesses the ability to shoot 3-pointers. He’s shooting 31 percent from long range, knocking down 19 of 62 attempts.
“I stretch the defense out,” said Belin, who is averaging 9.1 PPG and 5.4 RPG. “If I get the ball up top, that means [Eargle] gets a one-on-one opportunity. He causes double teams, so if my guy goes and helps, he finds me on the wing.”
Meanwhile, Eargle operates mainly from the low block. Inside the arc this season, Eargle is shooting 47 percent.
“When I’m down in the post, [Belin] will get it to me,” said Eargle, who is averaging 12.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 3.5 BPG. “I know he can shoot [3-pointers] pretty good, so when people double team me, I look for Kam or our other 3-point shooters. That’s how we benefit each other.”
The duo has also found its defensive chemistry, Belin said.
“Damian’s always there on the help side,” he said “That’s my guy, especially on defense.”
Eargle said that considering their skills on both sides of the court, YSU has a unique front line.
“We both are defensive players that can score,” Eargle said. “Basically, the Horizon League doesn’t have big men that can do multiple things like me and Kam can.”
Along with impressive wing spans — Eargle’s at 83 inches, Belin’s slightly shorter — the two men have something else in common: Both took uncommon routes to YSU.
Belin, a junior, played for two years at Cowley College in Kansas before becoming a Penguin. Meanwhile, Eargle, a senior, played for one year at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, transferred to YSU and then redshirted for a year.
Both said playing elsewhere before YSU had its benefits.
“It was a toughness thing for me,” Belin said. “It made me tougher, and also that’s where my confidence of shooting the ball came from.”
Eargle explained that college play is “physical game play.”
“A lot of high school players can’t adjust to that. So, Kam came here ready. And my redshirt year actually helped me a lot too, seeing how the Horizon League plays, which is more physical than the Southern Conference,” he said.
While Belin and Eargle have only a month or two left to compete together, expect their chemistry to continue to develop. Slocum said this is essential.
“We think our guys are pretty good,” Slocum said. “Those guys have played really, really well the last couple of games, and we need them to for us to be successful.”
Although the duo has been together for less than a year, they’ve come a long way.
“I don’t have to yell at him that much, [but] I do sometimes,” Eargle said. “As far as maturity and IQ, … he’s right along there with me. Sometimes he tells me what I’m doing wrong, and I’m like, ‘Hey, man. All right. Cool.’”