Maybe Joe Callero had to see it through someone else’s eyes.
As Big West men’s basketball coaches were sorting out nominees for conference honors this week, it gave the Cal Poly head coach a new perspective on his roster.
Sophomore forward Chris Eversley — who’s recently emerged as the Mustangs’ hottest shooter — was mentioned as a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year by other coaches, despite moving into the starting lineup weeks ago.
“All of a sudden,” Callero said, “I went like, ‘He is a good sixth man.’ ”
With Cal Poly reeling from its first three-game losing streak of the season heading into a two-game home swing that’s pivotal for the Mustangs’ Big West Tournament seeding, Callero is shaking up the lineup for today’s 7 p.m. home game against visiting UC Davis (5-23, 3-11 Big West).
Eversley is out. Senior Jordan Lewis is in.
Lewis gives Cal Poly (15-14, 6-8 Big West) a solid defender and aggressive rebounder. Perhaps more importantly, Eversley will give some scoring punch to a bench group that is deep but light on offensive threats.
“Whatever we need to do to win,” Eversley said. “We’ve been struggling the past couple games. We need to be fluid throughout the team, one through 13. So if I have to come off the bench and provide the spark, then that’s what we have to do because we have to start building some momentum coming into tournament time.”
With only tonight’s game and a Saturday matchup at Mott Gym with visiting Pacific remaining in the regular season, Cal Poly can land anywhere between fourth and seventh in seeding for the conference tournament.
Two wins will clinch the No. 4 spot for a three-game tournament that is re-seeded after the first round. The Eversley move has a potential to make a big impact.
After averaging just 3.5 points in his first 15 games for the Mustangs, the former transfer from Rice has scored double digits in 10 of the past 14 games.
Since Jan. 7, Eversley is leading Cal Poly with 12.5 points per game. He had a career-high 19 points in a win over Cal State Northridge in January and his first career double double — an 11-point, 14-rebound effort against UC Riverside in early February — was the highest rebounding output by a Mustang in more than a year.
“He’s worked his tail off, and it’s just starting to pay off,” said senior forward David Hanson, who leads the team with 11.4 points per game. “Especially in conference play, he’s just playing fantastic. He’s so gifted. He’s really athletic. You’re just seeing a glimpse of what he can do, and the next couple years are just going to be great for him.”
Eversley has also grown an inch — up from where he’s listed at 6-6 — and it seems like it’s all happened with the flick of a switch. It might also have more to do with an altered mindset than an athletic awakening.
“I’m more confident now than I’ve ever been,” Eversley said.
“To be honest with you, it was just overnight. I woke up one day, and it was like, ‘Play basketball and have fun.’ Sometimes we get caught up with basketball is our life, and it’s not. Basketball is just something that we do. Basketball is not Chris Eversley, and vice versa. It’s just a part of me.”
Part of the knock on Cal Poly this season is the Mustangs’ inconsistency away from Mott Gym.
Cal Poly is just 5-10 in true road games, 10-4 in home and neutral-site games, and nothing exemplifies the trend more than the conference series with last-place Cal State Northridge.
Cal Poly pounded the Matadors 100-54 in a record-setting victory at Mott in late January and fell 94-81 less than a month later at the Matadome.
To Callero, it’s just the standard deviation of all sports. People play better at home.
“Where do you spend 2-3 hours a day?” Callero said. “Every spot on the court from where the Cal Poly logo is to the rims, to the hoops, to the lighting, to your sleep, to going to class and going through your routine. And I don’t think it’s Cal Poly or the conference, I think it’s sports. I don’t care if it’s baseball, football, soccer.”
The subpar conference record after the Mustangs were on pace for their winningest season in Division I program history coming in, doesn’t have to derail the season.
UC Santa Barbara proved that last season when the Gauchos shrugged off a middling 8-8 conference record to win the Big West Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re a senior-laden team,” Hanson said. “We’ve got a deep bench, and granted we’ve lost three in a row, but I think we’re right on the verge. Wining two and winning the conference tournament is something that’s very real for us. It’s not, ‘Oh, well, we hope to do it.’ We’ve got the personnel. We’ve got the team. We’ve put in the work for it.”