In three seasons with the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, head coach Joe Callero has guided the Mustangs to competitive showings in the face of meager outside expectations.
Cal Poly finished fourth in the Big West Conference last season. The Mustangs were second the prior year.
Even in 2009-10 with a starting lineup sporting two walk-on players and a roster considered to be less talented than a last-place team from the year before, Cal Poly had one of the conference’s best records through the first half of Big West play and finished sixth.
Each season, the Mustangs improved on their predicted finish, and Callero’s aiming to do that yet again.
The media covering the conference picked Cal Poly — which lost six seniors from last year’s 18-15 squad — to have its worst season under Callero.
The Mustangs landed seventh on the Big West Conference preseason media poll and were denied a representative on the six-player preseason all-conference team when results were announced Thursday.
Callero duly noted the results and chalked them up to the play of a defensive-minded program that has ranked as one of the top teams in the country in defensive statistics under his watch.
“Our style of play isn’t glamorous,” Callero said. “It’s just hard-nosed and old school and defensive-minded and we control the ball. When you look at teams, you’re looking at how much offensive firepower they have, and it’s hard to tell how much offensive firepower we have.”
The Mustangs reportedly received some good news, however, as multiple internet reports indicate that Cal Poly received verbal commitments from three recruits this month.
Long Beach State, which lost four starters from last season’s regular-season and conference-tournament championship team, was picked to repeat with 13 first-place votes and 194 points. Senior swingman James Ennis was picked for the preseason all-conference team and will be joined on the court by several high-profile transfers.
Cal State Fullerton, which finished in a second-place tie last season, received six first-place votes, 164 points and saw guards D.J. Seeley and Kwame Vaughn selected preseason all-conference.
UC Irvine (153), newcomer Hawaii (132), UC Santa Barbara (129) and Pacific (113) rounded out the top six with the Anteaters and the Tigers each receiving one first-place vote.
UC Irvine guard Michael Wilder, Hawaii center Vander Joaquim and Cal State
Northridge swingman Stephan Hicks were the other preseason all-conference selections.
Former Rice transfer Chris Eversley was the Mustangs’ leading candidate for an all-conference selection after averaging 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds last season. The junior was especially hot late last season when he scored double figures in 13 of the last 18 games.
Along with Eversley, local sharp-shooting senior guard Dylan Royer and junior point guard Jamal Johnson form a nucleus of returners.
Royer, a former Tribune County Player of the Year at Morro Bay High, led the Big West shooting 46.5 percent on 3-pointers last season and his 72 made 3-pointers was the ninth-best single-season total in program history.
Seniors Chris O’Brien and Drake U’u and at least one true freshman big man will make up the first six in Cal Poly’s rotation with the center spot likely going to 6-foot-9 Brian Bennett.
The other true freshman, 6-foot-8 Zach Gordon, and redshirt freshman Joel Awich will back up the post positions with former Parade All-America guard Reese Morgan expected to play a key role off the bench while he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery.
Former Big West all-freshman team selection Kyle Odister will back up Johnson at point guard as Maliik Love sits out with a broken foot.
As far as recruiting, Callero is prohibited by the NCAA from speaking publicly about specific recruits before they sign a National Letter of Intent, but ESPN.com’s profile of the program lists three guard recruits as verbal commitments in advance of the Nov. 14 signing day.
Having Royer, O’Brien and U’u running out of eligibility this season, two sub-6-foot point guards and one off guard could be heading to San Luis Obispo.
Five-foot-11 Ridge Shipley of Carrollton (Texas) Hebron High is a two-star recruit ranked 132nd in the country at his position.
Another Texas standout, 6-3 San Antonio Churchill High guard Taylor Sutlive, also committed to Cal Poly, as did 5-10 Richmond (Calif.) Salesian point guard Markel Leonard, whose team won a Division IV state championship last season.