Joe Callero takes the reins of a program that has gone 19-39 over the past two seasons under previous coach Kevin Bromley.
“Joe has experience building programs in an academic environment similar to Cal Poly’s,” said Athletic Director Allison Cone at Coach Callero’s introductory press conference. “He understands the potential of basketball at Cal Poly and has the energy and passion to help us achieve that potential.”
Callero was hired after taking the Seattle University basketball team from NAIA to Division 1 over the last eight years, compiling a 117-105 record over that span, including a 21-8 mark in the past season. Callero, who has been coaching for 23 years, was coach at the University of Puget Sound for two years before that and was also an assistant coach at USC under Mike Bibby.
It didn’t take long for Callero to feel at home at Cal Poly.
“I literally just fell in love with the entire Central Coast and the notion that it was great community and it looked as if it had a college town feel,” he said. “I told my wife this is one of the greatest places in the world there is.”
Just like he did with Seattle and Puget Sound, Callero is making a transition to a program that needs to be rebuilt.
“I like coming in and reforming programs and I think I have the personality, the perseverance and the optimism.”
Callero believes that when transitioning to a new program; a coach cannot come in and change everything that’s already in place. He believes in evaluating the talent and personnel already here before making major changes to the program.
“The part I’ve learned after 23 years of coaching is that you don’t want to come in and just start blasting away,” Callero said. “You really have to evaluate what is here (first).”
In the early goings the coaching staff has identified the primary weakness of the team as strength and size on the inside. Cal Poly was, on average, out rebounded by four a game last year. The coaching staff has made a concentrated effort in its recruiting to address this area of need. The staff has already signed three players measuring 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10 so far.
Although there are still moving boxes in the basketball office, Callero’s coaching staff is almost complete. He brought down Mitch Freeman who spent four years as Callero’s assistant at Seattle to join him on the sidelines next year. Mitch Reeves will join the staff as Director of Basketball Operations after serving in that position last year under Callero. Also joining Callero will be longtime confidant Mark Amaral from Santa Barbara who will join the staff as the Associate Head Coach. Amaral’s former position at Santa Barbara was a big draw for Callero, who has described Amaral as a person who knows the Big West conference “inside and out.”
The last assistant position is still open and Callero wants to look more outside the box when it comes to making his last hire.
“We’re looking for a candidate who’s maybe even internationally known, so that we can look at recruits (internationally),” said Callero. “We’re looking at being more global and national in our recruiting base, to be able to maybe identify talent outside the central coast, LA and the Bay Area.”
Despite the far-reaching aspirations, Callero insisted that the program would stay grounded in California with the Central Coast always being the teams’ “bread and butter” in terms of landing recruits.
Callero also believes that his strong ties to the Seattle area which has produced recent NBA stars such as Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson and Aaron Brooks, will help him persuade quality prospects to migrate down south to play college basketball.
“I will always be able to go up to the Northwest and find a top recruit,” he said.
The greater Northwest seems to factor in as a big part of the new regimes recruiting strategy as they have already signed Ben Eisenhardt, the 25th ranked player in the state of Washington according to “Sea-Town Sports.”
With the pieces falling together, Callero still knows that he faces an uphill battle and he believes that starts with the team’s work ethic.
There’s a balance between being a realist, an optimist and a being a worker,” said Callero. “Everything’s not sunny everyday, you have to get to work and get your hand’s dirty but everything’s not gloomy either.”
With that Callero expects to instill a change in philosophy and attitude in the program.
“The fans can expect a team that plays unselfishly … a team that shares the basketball, take good shots and play with a passion together,” he said.
“We have to change the culture, (and learn) how to win those close games.”