Garrett Leight

The Cal Poly men’s basketball team will have to fight an uphill battle to regain the respect of fans after finishing last year with a record of 5-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big West – a record poor enough for a last-place finish in the Big West.

However, coach Kevin Bromley isn’t so quick to call last year a failure and this year a rebuilding year.

“You have to be careful as a coach measuring success by wins and losses,” Bromley said. “We had a number of players finish last year with degrees and now beginning careers; these are some real positives that came out of last year.”

Academic accolades aside, the record left the coaching staff and players with plenty of work to do in the off-season to turn this season around. Bromley said he began by looking for players with terrific knowledge of the game, speed and extensive defensive training.

Bromley said he spent a lot of practice time in the off-season working on man-to-man and zone defense.

“We need to build a solid foundation defensively,” Bromley said. “Ideally we want to hold our opponents to under 50 percent from the field.”

“This year’s team has a tremendous learning curve,” Bromley said. Bromley added that this year’s team is a lot faster in transition as well as much deeper than teams of the past.

“As a coach, I just need to make sure I’m teaching the right things,” Bromley said. “I have to keep my morals, values and standards.”

Hopefully for the Mustangs, these ideals lead to success, as the team takes a new look to the floor with two returning starters, seven lettermen returning and seven newcomers.

A major highlight for the team is 6-foot-8-inch senior forward Gabe Stephenson, who transferred from Cornell two seasons ago and redshirted last year at Cal Poly.

Stephenson has started off the 2005 campaign as the Mustangs’ go-to player and leading scorer.

Stephenson said that the team’s first goal is to gain respectability back from the fans. In addition Stephenson expressed similar thoughts to Bromley’s on the team atmosphere.

“We play together,” Stephenson said. “We all put our ego’s aside and we’re out there to win, we’re really feeding off each other.”

The players and coaches seem to be on the same track, as Stephenson reiterated what Bromley said will bring success to the team: defense and teamwork.

“If we want to win, we have to hold home court by sharing the basketball, getting shots in transition and most importantly we need to play defense,” Stephenson said. “If we do this, we can pull of some surprises this year.”

Another returning player who should help the Mustangs pull of some surprises is 6-foot-5-inch junior forward Derek Stockalper. Stockalper is coming off a season in which he played four games before going down with an injury, which forced him to sit the entire year.If healthy, Stockalper has the ability to be lethal. In his final season at Mira Costa College, he earned All-Pacific Coast Conference First Team honors when he averaged 17.2 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists per game.

The teams second returning starter, 6-foot-3-inch sophomore guard Dawin Whiten is coming off a season in which he received All-Big West Freshman honors averaging 11.4 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game. Bromley called Whiten the team’s sharpest perimeter shooter.

With the addition of 6-foot-9-inch freshman forward/center Coby Leavitt, 6-foot-1-inch freshman guard Chaz Thomas, and 6-foot-1-inch sophomore guard Clayton Osborn, Bromley and company said that their team is in position to shake things up in the Big West – a conference that gave the Mustangs a preseason ranking of seventh by the coaches, and eighth by the media.

The Cal State Fullerton Titans are favored to win the Big West regular season title. Defending Big West champion, University of the Pacific, was selected to finish second followed by UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge.

“I’m not worried about the coaches or media,” Bromley said. “The bottom line is that you have to play the game.”

The Big West, which lost conference powerhouse Utah State two seasons ago, should still be a tough and competitive conference for the Mustangs.

Working in their favor is a new rule, which places every team in the conference, in the conference tournament, which gives the winner an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

“The ideal is to peak at the end of the season,” Bromley said. “If we can win some big games in the regular season, we will put ourselves in a good position at the end of the year.”

The Mustangs preseason schedule won’t make winning any easier as the team will travel to No. 13 Stanford and Colorado, as well as play host to Fresno State for three match-ups that are sure to be a difficult task for the Mustangs.

“We can not have some success early against those teams,” Bromley said. “And still be a pretty good basketball team come the end of the year.”

The Mustangs will play host to Fresno State on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in Mott Gym.

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