Everywhere else she went was just a comparable.
West Geauga rising senior Athena Hocevar had offers or interest from 10-plus universities to continue her basketball career at the next level.
Targeted for her versatility to play a range of positions and for her brainpower, the 6-foot guard made her verbal commitment on May 11 to join the Division I Penguins at Youngtown State University.
Hocevar had entertained the offer from YSU since last July.
“I knew for a while that YSU was the school that I was comparing the other schools that had interest in me too, because I just felt super comfortable there,” she said. “And I just felt that it was time, because there was no hope in AAU season and just basic stuff like that. Also, the coaches are amazing, and everything just fell into place. So, that’s why I committed so early.”
As a freshman, Hocevar started on Gilmour Academy’s Division II state runner-up team that went 25-4 in 2018. She transferred back to West Geauga as a sophomore, after attending middle school there, and led the Lady Wolverines to an 8-3 start to their campaign, before having to sit the latter half of that season.
Her junior season, Hocevar averaged 17.5 points per game as a third-team all-Ohioan, with West Geauga capturing an outright Chagrin Valley Conference title during a 21-4 Division II district runner-up campaign.
Youngstown State was the first university to extend her a scholarship, but she also had offers from Oakland University, the University of North Dakota, Austin Peay State University, the University of Detroit Mercy and High Point University. And she yielded top interest from Robert Morris, Miami, Columbia and Lehigh universities.
“It really was about where I felt most comfortable,” Hocevar said. “I loved the distance from home. I loved how the coaches were. I loved the players and their attitudes. And I really feel like it was the most inviting and the most prone to success that I feel like I was going to reach my potential there. And I just – I loved it.”
The YSU women’s basketball program has been head coached by John Barnes for the past seven seasons, leading the Penguins to a 117-104 record with a pair of National Invitational Tournament appearances. His recruiting coordinator at YSU is Andy Crane.
Crane regularly attended Hocevar’s AAU games last year, and Barnes was captivated by her transition game, her handles as a 6-footer and, most of all, her versatility, she said.
“I definitely love the way that they’re trying to turn the program,” Hocevar said about her future coaches. “They’ve had success, but they’re trying to have even more. They’re working towards a faster transition game, a lot of position-less basketball, and I liked that.
“Also, I just think that their staff was so involved in making sure that every player reaches their full potential, because that is very important to me. I know that I’m not at my peak yet, and I want to make sure that I’m able to reach it, and do my best and support the team.”
Near the top of her class with a 4.6 GPA, Hocevar intends to explore a major in either chemical engineering or actuarial science, she said. Her mom, Evanthia Hocevar, who has a Master of Education, encouraged her to study something that she likes and works to her strengths, she said.
Hocevar’s basketball bloodline runs through her dad, Brian Hocevar, who was a standout at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, before going on to play college hoops under Jay Wright and Rollie Massimino at UNLV. He then transferred and played at Cleveland State University.
Youngstown State and CSU are now regular opponents in the Horizon League, but Hocevar is perhaps more interested in her future matchups against Detroit Mercy, which is also in the conference. Former Gilmour Academy teammates Annika Corcoran, a 2019 graduate, and Maddie Puletti, a 2020 graduate, play for Detroit Mercy.
“I’m for sure excited,” Hocevar said. “That’s one of the things I thought about, and I was like, ‘How fun would it be to play against them or play with them?’ It would be really fun. And, when I committed, they both reached out and said congrats, and they were both super happy for me. I know that we’re going to have so much fun playing against each other.”
In addition to playing with that duo during her freshman season at Gilmour, Hocevar also played with then-seniors Naz Hillmon, Sarah Bohn and Emma Gurley, all of whom went on to play college hoops. A 6-foot-2 rising junior at Michigan, Hillmon has already scored 1,000 points in her college career and is a two-time all-Big Ten first-team selection.
“I had the best role models in the world,” Hocevar said. “Naz Hillmon is a legend. She really showed me what it’s like to have heart and care and leadership.”
Transferring to West Geauga as a sophomore, to play under head coach Bob Beutel, Hocevar and the Lady Wolverines were 8-3 to start the season but then finished 3-8 the latter part of that campaign, when Hocevar was inactive to comply with transfer bylaws.
And this past season as a junior, the West Geauga girls went 21-4 with a 12-1 title mark in the CVC and a district runner-up finish to Perry. Seven of the eight players in the Lady Wolverines’ rotation were non-seniors, including Hocevar’s sister, 6-foot freshman Alexa Hocevar.
“But that run to states I’ll never forget, and it makes me want to have these experiences for my sister and my other teammates,” Hocevar said. “So, this next year, our goal is to win the CVC again and make a state run, because that experience is just like no other.”
Youngstown State, meanwhile, is coming off a 13-17 injury-ravished campaign, after a 22-win season with a trip to the NIT the previous year. But the Penguins boasted rookie Maddie Schires, who drained a freshman program-record 65 treys.
As a team, the YSU cagers maintained their reputation as a top shooting program, including a team average of 79.6 percent from the free-throw line, which ranked second in the country.
“That just shows that they’re very dedicated,” Hocevar said. “The players and the coaches are just so dedicated, and I saw that when I went there. I went to the gym, and there was a player working out. And they were like, ‘If you can always find at least one of your players in the gym, you know as a coach that you’ve been successful.’
“That was just amazing to me, because it’s so true. The dedication and the time they’re putting in is really showing. And I’m so happy that the growth is going to be there.”