When classes at Morro Bay High started Thursday, senior Hannah Gilbert was getting plaudits all around.
It was the high school’s first chance to celebrate as a whole after the 6-foot-3 girls basketball standout gave a verbal commitment to play for Cal Poly two weeks ago.
“Some of the kids were really excited, and they were really happy for me,” Gilbert said. “And some of the teachers congratulated me. It’s such an honor, a privilege.”
Though classes also started at Mission Prep this week, the Royals community is still in the dark about senior Connor Woolpert’s conversations with Cal Poly, but he could also join Gilbert in a Mustangs uniform next year.
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Woolpert, who made an unofficial campus visit this week, said Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero has invited him to join the team as a recruited walk-on next fall, meaning locals will be able to get a good look at two prep standouts this season as they prepare to join their home-county university.
“He was telling me what his ideas were for me,” Woolpert said. “He told me he could give me a walk-on spot, and he said, over time, I could be an important part of the team and help them win games.”
Callero and Cal Poly women’s basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh are prohibited by the NCAA from commenting publicly on recruits until they sign scholarship agreements or enroll in classes.
For Gilbert, that time is expected to come Nov. 14, the opening of the early signing period for men’s and women’s basketball. She said it was important to her to sign early to relieve any pressure of hinging her college scholarship hopes on her senior season.
“I don’t have to worry about my stats and be paranoid about messing up or having a less-than-adequate game,” Gilbert said.
“I always get nervous before my games no matter who we’re playing. In addition to that, I would have been a nervous wreck.”
A four-year varsity player, Gilbert averaged 14.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in her junior season, when she said Mimnaugh first extended the scholarship offer.
Without playing for a club team, Gilbert said she was also able to secure scholarship offers from UC Davis and San Francisco based solely on the strength of her high school performances for Morro Bay.
But the Aurora, Colo., native, who’s lived on the Central Coast since she was 2 years old, said she knew from the moment she was first recruited that Cal Poly was the school for her.
“I didn’t even know that I was on Cal Poly’s radar,” Gilbert said. “I found out when I was offered the scholarship.
“I didn’t know that I would be good enough to do it, but I made sure I worked really hard in the gym. I would not be here without my team and my coach.”
Woolpert might also have a teammate to thank. Mustangs coaches almost certainly got their best look at him while they were scouting former Mission Prep standout Zach Allmon, an incoming freshman to the university this fall.
The 6-foot-7 Allmon is one of four freshmen on scholarship for Cal Poly this season. For now, Woolpert’s offer remains a walk-on spot. The 6-foot-5 small forward is hoping his senior year at Mission Prep will help him net a Division I scholarship offer, but he’s excited about having a slot on the Cal Poly roster either way.
“I’m approaching the season still open-minded,” Woolpert said. “I’m still looking around. Of course, a scholarship has always been my number one dream. If I get a scholarship somewhere else, I’ll be open-minded to that, but right now it’s a huge offer to me, a huge opportunity.”
Woolpert averaged 14.3 points per game for the Royals last season. He said coaches have mainly asked him to improve on his 3.7 rebounds per game.
Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said Woolpert shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and better than 50 percent from the floor.
“He’s a very good shooter,” Harris said. “He does have some strength to him as well and I think he’s actually a better defender than people give him credit for.
“The other side to Connor Woolpert is he’s not just a basketball player. He’s a great student. He was class president last year. There a lot of things that point in the direction of him being a good quality kid.”
Cal Poly has had recent success with local walk-ons. Former Morro Bay High standout Dylan Royer became a starter for the Mustangs last season and earned a scholarship for his senior season this year.
Woolpert can also look inside his own family for inspiration. Older brother Mitch walked on at San Diego and played three seasons for the Toreros before graduating this year.
San Diego has also been in contact with Connor Woolpert about walking on. Woolpert said that offer could improve depending on how he does.
“I’m hoping this year I can come out and surprise people,” Woolpert said, “just come off the radar and make people be surprised and see what I can do.”