Reese Morgan might be gone for the year, but it seems like the Cal Poly men’s basketball team has replaced its former Parade All-American with a junior college transfer who just never quit.
Michael Bolden was nowhere near any recruiting lists at Trabuco Hills High in South Orange County four years ago.
“I almost stopped playing in high school,” Bolden said. “I was coming off the bench in J.V., and I was just about to quit.
“A little bit of talking to my mom, and the head varsity coach encouraged me to stay, telling me that my best days were ahead of me.”
Never miss a local story.
Better days certainly followed, and now that the 6-foot-5 sophomore transfer from Irvine Valley College said he has committed to joining the Mustangs in the fall, he’s hoping there’s even more to come.
A 5-7 combo guard when he started ninth grade, Bolden grew six inches by his senior year, but he hadn’t even caught the attention of any local junior college coaches.
Still, he wasn’t giving up.
With NCAA rules in mind, he took part-time classes as a freshman at nearby Saddleback College to delay the start of his eligibility clock, refusing to give up on his dream of playing college basketball.
Irvine Valley head coach Jerry Hernandez by chance saw Bolden play at an open gym session and realized that the skinny kid he remembered from Trabuco Hills was bigger and better than memory served.
“I had not recruited him,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t think he was good enough, and he popped in the gym. I saw him, and I said, ‘This is a no-brainer.’
“He’s a self-made player. Fortunately, he grew a little bit, but he’s very confident.”
Two years and two more inches later, Bolden averaged 14.3 points and six rebounds per game for a 16-12 Irvine Valley team that got to the second round of the junior college playoffs.
An inside-outside threat with a strong direct drive who appears comfortable spotting up around screens, Bolden shot 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
The production was a big jump from his freshman year, when he averaged 6.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and shot 28.1 percent in 17 minutes per game off the bench.
“His numbers, his confidence, his field-goal percentage all got better,” Hernandez said. “He’s a great defender, a very good rebounder and a very good spot-up shooter.
“Athletically, he can catch lob dunks. He’s stronger and more athletic now. He just kept getting stronger and better.”
Though he will not join Cal Poly until the fall, Bolden arrives in the wake of Morgan’s latest knee injury.
The returning sophomore guard is scheduled to have a left knee surgery that could knock him out for all of next season. Bolden, who can play either wing position, could help ease that loss.
The scholarship spot set aside for Bolden became available with the offseason transfers of redshirt freshmen Joshua Hall and Zach Allmon, a former Mission Prep standout. The Mustangs have also added Santa Monica College transfer David Nwaba, a 6-4 forward Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero said is in the mold of former Mustangs standout Shawn Lewis.
Bolden said he committed to Cal Poly on a campus visit the last week of May, which fell outside the NCAA national letter of intent signing period and prohibits the university from introducing him until he enrolls.
Hernandez said Bolden received recruiting attention from Bradley, Montana and Pepperdine, and Bolden said he made campus visits to Big West Conference schools UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton and was recruited by Division II Cal Poly Pomona.
But the Mustangs held more appeal for Bolden, who was encouraged by a last-second loss to eventual Big West Tournament champion Pacific in the semifinals at Honda Center in March as well as a certain high-profile nonconference victory.
“Once Cal Poly called me and had me go up there, I kind of knew that’s where I wanted to go,” Bolden said. “I knew what they did last year, beating UCLA and maybe being a few seconds from going to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m going to work hard in the offseason right now and just earn as many minutes as I can.”