About 2,000 miles northeast of San Luis Obispo lie the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the average February temperature is around 25 degrees. Although it would seem to have no relation to Cal Poly, this Minnesotan metropolitan area has produced four of Cal Poly’s 17 current men’s basketball players, as well as several others in past seasons. Cal Poly’s own Matt Hanson, Zach Thurow, John Manley and Travis Busch now enjoy California’s sunny, 65-degree February days.
It is very unusual for a team in the Big West conference to have such an arsenal of out-of-state players. Including the four from Minnesota, Cal Poly has more out-of-state players than any other team in the Big West, boasting eight total.
“It all started with Mitch Ohnstad (from Faribault, Minn.), who we saw at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, along with Chris Bjorklund (Cal Poly’s all-time leading scorer from Baxter, Minn.),” coach Kevin Bromley said. “Then we got to know their AAU coaches and high school coaches, and a pipeline started.”
Bromley’s strong connection with the Minnesota basketball scene over the last seven years has been very beneficial to Cal Poly, as there is a shortage of local talent to draw from on the Central Coast and because there is heavy competition between the 21 universities in California that play Division I basketball.
“There is only one major university in the state of Minnesota, and they only take two or three local guys each year because they play in the Big Ten,” Bromley said.
As a result, many players from Minnesota entertain the idea of going to school in another state to play basketball.
Hanson, a junior forward from Plymouth, Minn., first heard of Cal Poly through Ohnstad.
“I had never even seen the campus until I moved here, but I heard so many good things about Cal Poly from him that it seemed right,” Hanson said.
Manley, a sophomore forward from Minnetonka, Minn., ultimately decided on Cal Poly for its renowned academics, among other things.
“I had never heard of San Luis Obispo or Cal Poly until coach Bromley saw me play at a tournament in Kansas City during a summer in high school,” Manley said.
“Then after I put Cal Poly on my list and I was looking at schools, I decided I really wanted to go somewhere with a good business program and Cal Poly had that,” he said.
Another key connection in Manley’s case was that he went to the same high school as former Mustang basketball standout Shane Schilling, who transferred to Cal Poly from the University of Minnesota.
“Shane was a senior in high school when I was in eighth grade, but we knew each other well, and when I was considering Cal Poly I talked to him and he helped me with the decision a little bit,” Manley said.
Thurow, a sophomore center from Minneapolis, was on the same AAU team as Manley when they played in the Kansas City tournament, and was later recruited by Bromley. Though Thurow didn’t happen to have any acquaintances who were Cal Poly alumni, Bromley’s character impressed him enough to become a Mustang.
“Coach Bromley’s a great guy, and he cares about you as a person, not just as a player,” Thurow said.
Busch, a freshman guard from St. Paul, caught Bromley’s attention while playing in a tournament in Indianapolis.
“When I actually saw him play, I knew I wanted him to come to Cal Poly,” Bromley said. “I loved how hard he played and how he shared the ball.”
“Coach Bromley really made me want to come here, just with the kind of guy he is,” Busch said.
“My job is to sell out the gym, win basketball games, and graduate all the players, but to me there’s more,” Bromley said. “I care about all facets of their lives, not just basketball. I want them to be successful in life with whatever endeavor they choose.”
Even with good coaches and good players, many student-athletes have a hard time going so far away from home at just 18-years-old, making the out-of-state process risky.
“When recruiting out-of-state players, you always have to worry about them being homesick, but we’re an extended family and we’re all here for each other,” Bromley said.
As for the differences between Minnesota’s Twin Cities and California’s San Luis Obispo, there are quite a few.
“The weather here doesn’t change that often, it’s just sunny every day so it feels like time is standing still,” Busch said. “In Minnesota, it goes back and forth really quickly.”
“No one’s heard of tri tip there,” Thurow added.
Regardless of the changes in weather and vocabulary that Cal Poly’s out-of-state players have had to adapt to, they have found a second home in San Luis Obispo; the men’s basketballs are 30-inches in circumference and the baskets are 10-feet high, just like Minnesota.