As the letters of intent show, this recruiting class was all about guard play.
For the second straight year, the Cal Poly men’s basketball team signed three players on opening day of the NCAA’s early period for basketball scholarship commitments.
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But unlike last season when the Mustangs captured three post players, Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero collected written commitments from three ballhandlers on the eve of today’s 7 p.m. home opener against Northern Colorado.
Richmond Salesian High point guard Markel Leonard, Carrollton (Texas) Hebron High scoring guard Ridge Shipley and San Antonio (Texas) Churchill High sharpshooter Taylor Sutlive are all slated to join the team next season, replacing senior guards Dylan Royer, Chris O’Brien and Drake U’u.
“It really solidifies what we need when you lose those guards,” Callero said, “and it really helps long term.
“They’re all three capable of scoring off the catch and off the dribble. One of the things we want to make sure as the conference continues to upgrade with the addition of San Diego State, Boise State and Hawaii, we have to make sure we have the quickness in the backcourt.”
Leonard could be the standout in the quickness category. Callero said no one will take the ball from the 6-foot, 165-pound guard because of the way he can use his speed to protect it.
And while Leonard is quick, his signature is leadership. He’s the catalyst for a nationally ranked Salesian team that won the CIF Division 4 championship last year, features two other Division I early signees and is one of the contenders for the new eight-team CIF open-division state title bracket this season.
“Our mission will just be getting back to the mindset of wanting to repeat,” Leonard said. “Some people get complacent winning one, and our task this year would be getting into the mindset of we didn’t win one already, having the same hunger as we did last year.”
Teamed with Cal commit Jabari Bird and Montana signee Mario Dunn and coming from a program that has made back-to-back state title appearances, Leonard brings a winning attitude and the confidence to play alongside and against high-major talent.
“Being our starting point guard, he’s brought a kind of calmness to our game,” two-time state championship Salesian coach Bill Mellis said. “He kind of settles things down, and we don’t really have any problems bringing the ball up and breaking pressure.
“He pushes the ball really well, he’s a good passer and he seems to find the open guy. In a way, he’s a true point guard. I wouldn’t say he’s a scoring point guard, but he can score when he really needs to.”
For scoring, Callero was excited to receive a commitment from Sutlive, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard who averaged 12.2 points, five rebounds and 2.4 steals while helping Churchill to a 33-3 record and a district championship last season.
With Royer leaving, Kyle Odister going into his senior year next season and the health of Reese Morgan’s knee still a question mark, Callero said it was important to get a player who made 46 percent of his 3-pointers and can provide an outside shooting threat.
“He’s a shooter, he’s a scorer, he’s got long-range touch,” Callero said. “He’s more of a hybrid between Dylan Royer and Drake U’u. He can score off the ground, take 2-3-4 dribbles and create something. With Dylan graduating, we need that sharpshooter, and with Kyle Odister graduating the following year, we lose two pure shooters very quickly.”
Shipley, a 6-0, 170-pound guard who averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 assists while helping Hebron to the Texas 5A state quarterfinals, brings a different dimension than both Leonard and Sutlive.
“Ridge Shipley,” Callero said, “has bigger size and can score it coming off the screen. He can stop and pop, has good ball-handling skills with both hands. He can turn the corner and pass it, but he’s more of a scoring point. We like having Markel and Ridge to improve overall depth for short term and long term.”