Three Cal Poly men’s basketball players will enjoy a homecoming of sorts over the next nine days when the Mustangs close out their nonconference schedule in the Lone Star State.
Coming off a 19-point loss at USC on Thursday, Cal Poly is scheduled to play Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at noon Sunday in the American Bank Center. The Mustangs will match up with UT San Antonio on Tuesday and play their final nonconference game Dec. 29 at No. 24-ranked Texas A&M.
Not since the 2012 season opener at TCU has Cal Poly played in Texas. That will likely make these next three games even more significant for Texas natives Ridge Shipley, Taylor Sutlive and Jaylen Shead.
Seventh-year head coach Joe Callero said Cal Poly first had recruiting success in Texas when the Mustangs landed standout guard Jamal Johnson from San Antonio in 2010. That led to the recruitment of Shipley, a junior point guard from the Dallas area, and Sutlive, a third-year sophomore out of San Antonio.
“We started looking at Texas kids and realized that they were willing to come all the way out west,” Callero said. “... As we recruited them, we said, ‘We’ll try to come to Texas every couple years to play some games.’ ”
Shead, a true freshman point guard from Pflugerville, located about 20 miles north of Austin, committed to play for the Mustangs without taking an official visit, perhaps legitimizing Cal Poly’s Texas connection even more.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, picked to finish third in the Southland Conference preseason coaches’ poll, brings a 7-3 record into Sunday’s contest. The Islanders are undefeated at home and had their six-game winning streak snapped against last year’s national runner-up Wisconsin on Tuesday night in Madison.
A young UT San Antonio team has gotten off to a slow start this season with only two seniors on the roster. The Roadrunners are in the middle of a five-game homestand, with Cal Poly serving as the team’s final nonconference opponent before the start of Conference USA play.
Sutlive grew up a few miles away from the Convocation Center, UT San Antonio’s home arena. A 2013 graduate of Churchill High, the 6-foot-3 Sutlive has come into his own this season. A starter in all 10 games, Sutlive averages 8.7 points and has made multiple 3-pointers seven times this season.
Now a year removed from a season-ending knee injury, Sutlive is shooting 46.9-percent from the field and a team-leading 48.8-percent from beyond the arc, which ranks fourth among Big West Conference players.
The Texas A&M game might carry the most weight with Shipley, whose older sister was a four-year starter on the Aggies’ women’s soccer team. The Shipleys have several family ties to College Station, and Ridge still goes back to watch a football game at Kyle Field each September.
Shipley said he knows a handful of players on Texas A&M’s basketball team, listing freshmen DJ Hogg and Tyler Davis among his “little brothers” from their days on the AAU circuit.
“I’ve known them all since middle school,” Shipley said. “I got to watch Tyler Davis, who’s starting as a freshman, go from 6-10, 360 pounds, to 6-10, 270 and changed his whole body. Going from almost getting cut from the AAU team he was on, to being a 5-star recruit.
“So, seeing those kids there, it’s awesome.”
Coming out of Hebron High in 2013, Shipley was rated among the top 25 players in the state and the No. 3 overall point guard in Texas. Hebron won 34 straight games his senior season, and Shipley’s highlight reel online has received more than 3.1 million views since March 2013.
Cal Poly fans will likely remember Shipley’s game-winning 3-pointer in the Big West tournament championship game two years ago, a shot that sent the Mustangs to their first NCAA Tournament in school history.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Shipley is averaging 5.6 points and two rebounds in fewer than 24 minutes per game.
“I just think maturity-wise, I’m just continuing to just mature on and off the court,” Shipley said. “Whether it’s taking care of my classes better to prepare myself, not have a bigger load for the games. Just like little things that I didn’t understand as a freshman and sophomore, I’m starting to understand just through relationships with the coaches and being a captain.”