College Sports

Preseason injury bug bites Cal Poly's basketball team again

Cal Poly guard Maliik Love, left, drives to the basket against UC Riverside’s Kareem Nitoto during the 2011 Big West Tournament in Anaheim. Love injured his left foot in practice on Saturday.
Cal Poly guard Maliik Love, left, drives to the basket against UC Riverside’s Kareem Nitoto during the 2011 Big West Tournament in Anaheim. Love injured his left foot in practice on Saturday.

The Cal Poly men’s basketball program is facing another potential season-ending surgery, the third straight season head coach Joe Callero has seen at least one player lost for the year in preseason practice.

Last year, it was shooting guard Chris O’Brien’s torn ACL. Point guard Amaurys Fermin tore the same knee ligament in 2010. Both were gone for the year in the early stages of practice.

This time, junior point guard Maliik Love broke a bone in his left foot during a basketball workout Saturday, and Callero said there is a 60 percent chance Love will redshirt the upcoming season.

Love could have surgery sometime in the next two weeks. He could also opt to allow the fracture of his fifth metatarsal, commonly referred to as a Jones fracture, to heal on its own.

Either way, Love is expected to be out at least through Christmas, possibly longer.

“The biggest thing when people come back from this type of injury may be playing too early,” Love said, “not giving it enough time. All I have to do is stay focused on my foot and not coming back too early.”

Love suffered the break attempting to rebound his own missed layup. When he jumped up for the putback, he landed awkwardly on his foot. Though the former La Jolla Bishop’s School standout had never experienced an injury more severe than a sprained ankle, he knew something was wrong.

It was an injury Callero had seen before, too. When he coached at Seattle University, his stop prior to Cal Poly, he had two players suffer the same fate in the same season.

After his bad luck with O’Brien and Fermin with the Mustangs — as well as unrelated season-ending surgeries that sidelined guards Kyle Odister and Reese Morgan within the past few years — Callero spent much of the offseason looking for answers.

The fourth-year Cal Poly head coach secured audiences with experts from junior college to the major Division I college level to the NBA, trying to find out if he could change anything to avoid these training camp injuries.

“I talked to probably eight, nine people just kind of looking at injuries as a whole,” said Callero, who met with coaches and trainers from the likes of Stanford and the Oklahoma City Thunder over the summer. “It’s happening at every level and every team in every sport.

“Kids, not only are their bodies better, they’re more explosive, they’re stronger, they’re quicker, which is the mathematic equation for things to break more.”

Love might be the most severely hurt Mustangs player, but he’s not the only one and not the only point guard.

Junior point guard Jamal Johnson landed on his head driving to the lane this past week and was taken to the hospital. He suffered a concussion and could miss the next couple weeks.

Senior Drake U’u was also sporting a walking boot on his left foot. He’s expected to be out another week with a sprained ankle. Morgan suffered a setback returning from knee surgery last year and will be held out a little while longer, and incoming freshman Zach Allmon, a former Mission Prep standout, has been hobbled by an ankle sprain, too.

With the season opener at TCU still seven weeks away, Callero was not too concerned with the minor injuries, many of which seemed to occur as position battles rage on in training camp.

Love was battling Johnson for the starting point guard spot. Now, it seems, Johnson will be handed the job with Odister, O’Brien and U’u listed as backup options.

Love was named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year when he started at point guard in 2010-11, the year Fermin went down.

He agreed with the same conclusion Callero came to after consulting his panel of experts: Players these days are practicing harder as the stakes of upper-level athletics continue to rise.

“We tend to go pretty hard the first couple of practices,” Love said, “so maybe that has a little bit to do with it, fighting for possessions or stuff like that.”