Four years ago, it wasn’t clear if Dylan Royer would make an impact on the Cal Poly men’s basketball team.
The former Morro Bay High standout had just been named The Tribune’s County Boys Basketball Player of the Year, parlaying a four-year varsity career as one of the most prolific scorers on the Central Coast into an invitation to walk on with the Mustangs.
But domination of small-town basketball left big-time doubts. Could the 6-foot-1 sharp-shooting guard compete against the upgraded athleticism in college basketball?
After starting 22 of 33 games last season, shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range to finish fifth in the nation and earning a scholarship for this, his fifth-year senior season, Royer answered that question in the affirmative.
“Once I got to college, I realized I love shooting, but that’s not all there is to it,” Royer said. “I’ve got to work on my ballhandling. I’ve got to work on my defense. So I incorporated all these other things. Instead of just coming out and getting a few hundred shots up, I’ll do that, but I’ll also work on ball-handling and sprints and stuff like that to try and build my athleticism.”
Each season, Royer has improved aspects of his game. First he secured his spot on the team. Then he earned a spot on the floor. Now he’s a starter. He’s becoming a team leader, craving an even bigger role.
Considering the strength of a daunting nonconference schedule announced last week, Royer and Cal Poly may be facing their biggest challenge yet in the four-year tenure of head coach Joe Callero.
One of only three seniors on the Mustangs roster among seven returners, Royer is going to have to become more than just a spot-up shooter, someone that can’t be neutralized by strategy.
“Dylan, you have to realize, he’s not a good shooter. He is a great shooter,” Callero said. “He translated that at the NCAA level, being the number one 3-point shooter in the nation for five or six weeks. Then it became, ‘St. Mary’s is not going to let you even touch the ball.’ “People get a hold of that tape and say this is how you guard the guy. He actually worked pretty hard recently this spring at putting the ball on the ground.”
Finishing fifth on the team with 7.1 points per game, Royer’s role last season was to shoot. Others penetrated, others posted up and others passed. Royer shot 3s.
Not only have opponents caught on, but Cal Poly also has fewer proven players to handle those other duties now that last year’s seniors — Amaurys Fermin, David Hanson, Will Taylor, Will Donahue and Jordan Lewis — are gone.
“Guys are going to fly at me and try to push me off the 3-point line,” Royer said. “I need to pump fake and shoot the mid-range. I need to make that something I can rely on this year. I don’t want to be self-conscious at all. I have the ball and I know you’re not taking it from me.”
The task starts Nov. 9 at TCU, a game Callero highlighted as the most anticipated game on a slate of several against major opponents. The Mustangs will also visit UCLA on Nov. 25 and defending Pac-12 regular season champion Washington on Dec. 20 in addition to road games against 2012 NCAA Tournament participants St. Mary’s (Dec. 1) and Nevada (Dec. 11).
The marquee home game is Nov. 19 against Fresno State. Cal Poly also hosts a BracketBuster game Feb. 23 against an opponent to be determined.
“In the past, we had three really big names,” Callero sad. “I think now we’re talking five. When you start getting into the depth of the schedule, I think we’re looking at the challenge being that much more, but I feel like we’re ready for it.
“Whatever happens with that preseason schedule, whether we have a lot of success, medium success or we struggle, I don’t think that’s going to affect us going into conference play. Those seven guys that have played are not going to be fazed by a victory or a defeat.”
The trip to Fort Worth to play TCU excites Callero because it gives Mustangs junior point guard Jamal Johnson, a former San Antonio Madison High standout, a game in his home state. Callero also said the program is recruiting players from Texas who can watch in person.
With as many games as there are against high-profile opponents, there’s potential for Cal Poly to be overmatched for the early portion of the season. As Callero said, that idea doesn’t faze Royer.
Royer came to Cal Poly with some doubting whether he’d even play. When he takes the floor against those big-time opponents, he’ll know it was what he was after all along.
“We’re considered low mid-major, but we signed up for Division I basketball, and we want to play the best,” Royer said. “That’s what we came for.”