Cal Poly men’s basketball is gearing up to return to the hardwood for their 2021-22 season.
In a 2020-21 season riddled with stoppages and restarts due to the pandemic, the Mustangs finished just 4-20 overall and 1-15 in Big West play, the program’s worst conference record ever.
Despite the difficult season, the Mustangs did get a win over CSU Fullerton in the opening round of the Big West Conference Tournament.
“We’re just trying to build off that [win],” head coach John Smith said. “We feel that we’re in a good position, in terms of building the program, of where we’re trying to go.”
Cal Poly has seven returning players from last year’s squad, in addition to the four Division-1 transfers and two freshmen. Highlighting the returners will be junior forward Alimamy Koroma, a Big West honorable mention a year ago, and senior forward Tuukka Jaakkola.
“Although we’re playing fast and trying to get up the floor and get early shots, we would love to go and get early shots through [Koroma and Jaakola],” Smith said. “Anytime you can score on the inside, it breaks a defense down.”
Two of the transfers who have joined Cal Poly reached the NCAA tournament at their previous schools. Graduate guard Jacob Davison comes from Eastern Washington, where he averaged 9.8 points per game. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman guard Julien Franklin made 21 appearances for Oregon State last season.
Returning and looking to lead the offense is sophomore forward Brantly Stevenson, who averaged 6.7 points per game last season. With their freshman season being in the midst of COVID-19, Stevenson and the rest of the current sophomore class were forced to adjust to collegiate-level play during the season, since preseason practices and games were canceled last year.
“I learned so much from last year,” Stevenson said. “In terms of growth, I think I’ve mentally and physically grown exponentially.”
Sophomore players like Stevenson have never had the opportunity to play in front of crowds in their collegiate career, another obstacle for players who made their first appearances last season.
“Playing in front of no crowd is tough,” Stevenson said. “The fans, they’re a huge part of the game.”
Cal Poly is scheduled for 13 non-conference games starting on Nov. 9, including one against top-ranked UCLA, and will begin Big West play on Dec. 30.
The 2021-22 Cal Poly women’s basketball team has their eyes set on proving themselves and reaching the Big West Championships with an evolved roster.
With the loss of their top -two scorers from the year prior, Sierra Campisano and Abbey Ellis, the Mustangs will have nine returners and eight newcomers, including six freshmen and two Division-I transfers.
Even with roster changes, head coach Faith Mimnaugh isn’t worried about the team’s chemistry.
“Our chemistry, considering how many new players we have, makes me very pleased with the direction we’re headed,” Mimnaugh said.
Mimnaugh said she is looking forward to seeing her team of “talented, energetic, high basketball IQ players” perform as a committee that shares the ball and spreads points around.
This play style will be key for this team, as Campisano and Ellis took the majority of shots and averaged 15.8 and 15.3 points per game, respectively.
“I don’t believe any of our opponents will be expecting very much of us because of the loss we suffered with our personnel and them not knowing how talented our newcomers are,” Mimnaugh said. “However, that’s our advantage. If they underestimate us, I think we have the potential to do some prizes on the floor.”
Junior guard Maddie Willet, who averaged 7.8 points per game last season with the Mustangs, said she has found herself in a position to lead the team towards success.
“With a whole new team, I’m really excited to see what we can do this season,” Willet said. “As an upperclassman, I’ve found myself in more of a leadership position to guide us through it.”
When asked about the team’s determination leading up to the start of the upcoming season, Willet re-emphasized the sentiments of Mimnaugh.
“Our team’s goal is to get up the ranks toward winning the Big West championships,” Willet said. “As a whole, we’ve really bought into that, making it really special and unique for us all to be so completely determined to do so.”
In looking forward to the start of the season, graduate forward Kirtsy Brown spoke directly to the students of Cal Poly.
“I’m excited to just have fans back at the games,” said Brown. “That’s definitely what we missed out on last year. Fans bring a whole different energy, both home and away.”
Last season, the team began play without fans due to COVID-19 precautions, but this season Motts Athletics Center is open to the public who comply with their guidelines.
Their season is set to tip off on Nov. 10 against Santa Clara, with conference play starting on Dec. 30.
“We’re a whole different team,” Brown said. “I think we’re really gonna shock some people when they come out to see us play.”