A crucial aspect to the Cal Poly men’s basketball team’s and head coach Joe Callero’s success has been their recruiting presence out of state.
And the assistant coach responsible for making many of those first contacts and building relationships beyond California’s borders is leaving San Luis Obispo.
Fourth-year Mustangs coach Omar Lowery is heading to San Jose State, joining first-year head coach Dave Wojcik as the Spartans transition into the Mountain West Conference beginning next season.
The news comes just days after Cal Poly football offensive coordinator Bryan Cook left to become the quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech.
“All this stuff wouldn’t happen if we weren’t successful,” Lowery said, “and I really have to thank coach Callero and our players, our staff and president and our athletic director. We really have something special here.”
A Wisconsin native who played college basketball in both Texas and the Badger State, Lowery built a reputation wooing players from Chicago and the Southwest.
Two of the starters from Cal Poly’s 18-14, third-place Big West Conference team this past season are Chicago-area natives, junior forward and leading scorer and rebounder Chris Eversley and freshman center Brian Bennett.
Point guard Jamal Johnson is from San Antonio, and two more recruits from Texas, where Lowery was a three-year assistant coach at Texas State, are signed and sealed for next season.
“That’s what was so great about Omar,” Callero said. “He could go into what we call cold climates and dusty climates.
“I think he took great pride in helping us. What I was looking for when I hired him was somebody different, somebody with a different network as far as recruiting base goes but somebody who’s a very competent mentor for student athletes.”
Lowery joined Callero when the former Seattle University head coach took over at Cal Poly prior to the 2009-10 season.
Lowery said his tight bond with players such as Bennett and incoming recruits like Texas point guard Ridge Shipley filled the past couple of days with teary goodbyes.
“That was the toughest,” Lowery said, “hearing Brian Bennett’s mom crying on the phone. Ridge Shipley’s parents had real emotion. If they weren’t emotional, you question if you’ve had an impact on their lives. As a staff, we’ve had an impact on these guys’ lives. It’s a family here, and this is a tough family to leave.”
Callero left the timetable to replace Lowery open. There are two open recruiting weekends focused on scouting players in the coming weeks, but Cal Poly has the staff in place to cover those periods.
Since the head coach announced Lowery’s departure with a tweet late Wednesday, Callero said he’s received 40 combined phone calls, text messages and emails from interested candidates. Most important to hiring a replacement, Callero said, is finding a personality compatible with the chemistry that’s already been developed.
“The biggest thing we’re going to miss is his overall balance that he has in multiple areas,” Callero said. “Great recruiter, great on-court guy, great person to be around, great mentor and has the timing to know when to do it all.
“We’re going to move slowly and thoroughly through the process until we make sure we know what we need in his replacement. ... In a perfect world, I would get somebody who’s really proficient, somebody pretty experienced who’s been around the Division I game.”
Also charged with coaching post play, post defense and rebounding, Lowery said he had previous opportunities to leave Cal Poly, but none were the fit he was looking for.
Lowery is good friends with Phoenix Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter and said he speaks with the former NBA player a few times a week, but even before the opportunity at San Jose State opened up, Lowery turned down chance to join the professional franchise next season to remain in the college game.
“I love seeing these guys grow,” said Lowery, who began his teaching career in a Wisconsin grade school in 2001. “Working with these young men, that’s just where my calling is, where my passion is.”