Joe Callero went “off the grid” for a few days of vacation this past week, and a piece of bad news brought the outside world crashing back down on Cal Poly’s head men’s basketball coach.
Six-foot-eight junior center Zach Gordon injured his knee Monday playing in an NCAA-approved summer league with other collegiate players back home in the Seattle area.
It didn’t take long for word to travel to Callero, a native of the Pacific Northwest himself.
“Actually, a buddy of mine was at the game,” Callero said, “and left me a voice message saying, ‘Hey, one of your kids might have gotten hurt. He might have twisted his knee.’ ”
As it turned out, Gordon said he suffered tears in his ACL, LCL and meniscus and fractured bones when his knee collided with another player’s on the back end of a pick-and-roll.
Gordon, who made a game-clinching play in the Mustangs’ Big West Tournament championship victory in March, is scheduled to have surgery performed on his right knee next Thursday and has already been ruled out for the upcoming season.
The nonchalant voicemail left for Callero belied the severity of the injury because Gordon really didn’t make much of a scene.
“There was an initial kind of shock for me,” said Gordon, whose family home is in Lynwood, Wash. “I fell down and grabbed the knee and let out a yell, and I got up and walked over to the bench. I got my stuff after the game ended, walked out to the car.”
The fact this wasn’t Gordon’s first serious knee injury helped him remain calm. Gordon tore the ACL in his left knee the summer before his senior season at Everett (Wash.) Archbishop Murphy High in 2011.
The damage was more severe this time around, but Gordon kept high spirits knowing he’d already come back from one extensive knee rehabilitation.
“I did it before,” Gordon said, “and it only took me six months to get back, and I was still explosive. I’m not too worried about having this one.
“The hardest thing for me is just sitting out not being able to play. … I’m still going to try and help the team as best I can.”
Recovery time this time around is expected to take between six to nine months, meaning Gordon will redshirt this year and come back as a junior in 2015-16.
Though he was likely to come off the bench most nights, the loss of Gordon could leave Cal Poly shorthanded in the post as the Mustangs search for a replacement for Big West Tournament MVP Chris Eversley.
Callero said juniors Brian Bennett and Joel Awich are penciled in to start in the front court, but with Gordon gone, Cal Poly will turn to either senior sharpshooter Anthony Silvestri down low or incoming freshman Aleks Abrams.
Gonzaga transfer Luke Meikle (6-8) will sit out the upcoming season in compliance with NCAA transfer rules.
Playing in 33 of 34 games last season and starting five, Gordon averaged 1.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes.
He did however, come up with the defensive play of the year, drawing a charge on Cal State Northridge’s Tre Hale-Edmerson to negate Hale-Edmerson’s go-ahead eight-footer with 4.6 seconds left in a 61-59 victory that sent the Mustangs to the program’s first NCAA Division I Tournament in men’s basketball.
The win completed a trio of improbably victories that saw a No. 7 seed win the Big West Tournament for the first time as well.
“If we didn’t have Zach Gordon, Brian Bennett and Joel, we don’t win those three games in the tournament,” Callero said. “Every one of them was critical during the three-game run in the tournament.”
The blessing in disguise could be the staggering of the junior class as the result of Gordon’s injury. Since he will be eligible to play an extra season with the redshirt, the Mustangs will have to replace just five seniors after the 2015-16 season instead of six.
By then, Gordon could also be making a much bigger impact on the court.
“With six new bodies, it’s going to take an extra six weeks to get guys on the same page,” Callero said. “And really, it will allow Zach to be a legitimate leader by his senior year, a fifth-year guy.”