The Cal Poly men’s basketball team’s improbable NCAA Tournament debut in March is paying immediate dividends in recruiting.
Luke Meikle, the 6-foot-9 Gonzaga transfer who visited two higher-profile programs before making a verbal commitment to join the Mustangs last week, said Cal Poly’s recent postseason success definitely factored into his decision.
The coaching staff’s ties to the Pacific Northwest also didn’t hurt.
“I want to go someplace where we’re going to get back to the tournament, get to the second round, get to the Sweet 16 and build a program up,” said Meikle, who played 15 games as a freshman for the Bulldogs this past season, averaging 0.7 points and 0.9 rebounds in four minutes per game. “The first one is the hardest. They’ve got that one under their belt, and it was definitely a factor in the decision.”
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The Mustangs won their first Big West Conference Tournament title as the No. 7 seed last season and won a nationally televised opening-round game before eventually falling to No. 1 seed Wichita State on CBS.
The publicity certainly helped. In six seasons, Meikle would be Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero’s first transfer snared from a high major college program such as Gonzaga.
Meikle said he also made official visits to Washington and Boise State. He was recruited by the Huskies coming out of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash., where he averaged 15 points and nine rebounds his senior year and 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior.
A face-up post player who can step out and hit long-range jumpers, Meikle was ranked as the No. 7 player in the state by ESPN.com before choosing Gonzaga, which for him is a good four to five hours’ drive away from home in Spokane, Wash.
Somewhat disenchanted with the university and looking for an upgrade in playing time, Meikle will head south, where Callero has developed his own Little Seattle in Mott Athletics Center.
Verbal commitments are nonbinding, and NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting publicly on recruits before they sign scholarship agreements, but the Mustangs do have one scholarship available, and the fit makes plenty of sense.
Callero himself was born, raised and educated in the Seattle area and spent 15 seasons as a college basketball head coach in the region before coming to Cal Poly. Mustangs assistant coach Sam Kirby played for Callero during the coach’s nine-year stint at Seattle University.
Another assistant, Mitch Reaves, is a Washington State graduate and, after serving in an administrative role with the Redhawks, moved to San Luis Obispo with Callero when he took the Mustangs job in 2009.
Then there is associate head coach Paul Fortier, who was an assistant at Washington for eight years before joining the Cal Poly staff last season.
Fortier recruited Meikle while with the Huskies, and Meikle said he remembers attending youth camps run by Fortier at Washington while growing up.
Junior big man Zach Gordon, a Lynnwood, Wash., product, was also a welcome face. It turns out Meikle has a cousin who played for Gordon’s high school rival.
It all added up to a compelling visit for Meikle, who said he decided just two days after last week’s three-day trip to the Central Coast to commit to Cal Poly. He will have to sit out a year to satisfy NCAA transfer requirements, but Meikle is eager to arrive on campus in September.
“Coming down for the visit helped make a lot of things clear in my mind,” Meikle said. “The whole aspect of college and the basketball program. I just wanted to make sure I picked the right school and the right basketball program. They’re up-and-coming, they’ve got some talented players and they’ve got a good coaching staff. I have to redshirt a year, but I’m looking to get in there and help.”