The sunny central coastline is an alluring attraction to many Cal Poly students. Tepid winters and comfortable summers combined with an abundance of eye-arresting beaches makes the university an ideal location for those seeking a scenic and adventurous campus.
The splendor of the Central Coast lays in stark contrast to the four-season calendar of the Northeast. Tucked away in the southern end of Cayuga Lake, N.Y., is a campus with an academic calendar just as infamous as the Northeast’s frigid winters, Cornell University, where a 21-year-old student-athlete from Denver, Col. was about to make a life-changing decision.
“Back when I was transferring I didn’t say anything negative,” he said, carefully choosing his words. “I said it was a personal decision, and that I wanted to come out West, and obviously I wouldn’t have made this decision if I was happy with the coach. The coach there really lost my respect, because I don’t think he was on my side.”
Athletic teams, especially at the higher levels of competition, are like second families. The coach acts as the father, the assistants are uncles and the players on the team are brothers who share the common bond of sweat, dedication and most importantly, trust. When one of those bonds is broken, dispute isn’t far behind.
“He wasn’t the kind of guy that I would go to war with, go to the trenches with,;I just couldn’t trust him,” the former Big Red player said candidly. “One moment he was a great guy, the next moment he was stabbing me in the back and I just didn’t want to play for a coach like that.”
Though the bond he had with the assistant coaches and teammates remained intact, he felt he could no longer play for a coach he didn’t trust or respect.
Gabe Stephenson, a senior forward for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, had one year of eligibility remaining at Cornell when he called his parents to ask their advice.
“I know what he told me, I know what the coaches told me and I know from being a coach of his myself,” said Gabe’s father, David Stephenson. “Sometimes Gabe has a different perspective from how the coaches view him. I simply told him it was his decision and he knew what was right for him.”
Gabe’s mother, Cassandra Sasso, now divorced and living in Shell Beach, Calif., understood Gabe’s desire to transfer.
“When he first called me, I was working as a trial lawyer in Denver and he called me and told me that he wanted to do it,” Sasso said. “At the time that he first called me he was a little emotional and I knew he had wanted to live in California since he was in high school.”
Gabe had made up his mind. He would leave the icy atmosphere of Ithaca behind him to transfer to a much warmer climate in California.
Because it would be a violation of NCAA rules to directly contact other coaches, Gabe turned to a pair of close friends to facilitate the transfer process: his high school coach at J.K. Mullen Prep, Porter Cuttrell, and his father.
“I actually knew I was going to transfer before the season started so I had my dad send out some e-mails that said, ‘Well, here’s a kid and here’s what he’s done.Would you be interested?’” he said. “They were all California schools. I knew I wanted to come to California.”
Gabe’s dad sent feelers to colleges across the Golden State, including Big West schools and teams the Mustangs would eventually play during the 2005-06 season.
“There were a couple schools that were very, very interested in him,” David Stephenson said. “I could truly say he was most impressed with coach (Kevin) Bromley. The Cal Poly program in general was by far the most interested and most impressive people for him to talk to.”
While Gabe’s father laid the foundation for a relocation to California, Gabe’s high school coach did what he could to help as well.
“I just tried to put some options out there,” Cuttrell said. “I didn’t direct him or get it all hooked up, but when he put up some ideas of where he wanted to go, I talked to some coaches and gave them some information of what he could bring to their program.”
With Cuttrell in the mix, all signs pointed to San Luis Obispo. Not only were David and Gabe Stephenson impressed with the Cal Poly program, but Cuttrell knew the head coach, Bromley. Cal Poly seemed like a perfect fit.
“The first thing about coach Bromley is we’re both from Denver, so we had that connection,” Stephenson recalled of his decision-making process. “He knew my high school coach, and my high school coach is someone I had a lot of respect for. We’re really good friends now and he spoke really highly of coach Bromley.”
While Gabe connected with Bromley on a personal level, there was still one determining factor before choosing a final destination.
“The biggest thing transferring for me honestly, I mean I knew I was coming to California and the weather was going to be great, but the biggest thing for me was playing for a coaching staff I could trust,” Gabe said. “Coach Bromley is so positive, he’s just a positive person. He treats you like a son, honestly. He treats everybody on his team like a son and it’s really great.”
After Gabe received a release from Cornell, he contacted Bromley. Bromley remembered the talks he had with Stephenson and said when Gabe visited the campus he was “sold on it.”
“Once he contacted us, we said, ‘Well, if you want to transfer obviously you have to sit a year, we can’t really recruit you, you’ve got to get yourself admitted,” Bromley said. “He did all that work and thank God he’s here, because he’s really a great person.”
Bromley spoke highly of Stephenson as an individual, a teammate and as a student-athlete with a great background. Both of Gabe’s parents are lawyers; David Stephenson attended Dartmouth University and Gabe’s mother went to law school at Northwestern University.
From giving rides to teammates after practice to hosting team barbecues, Bromley said Gabe made his mark on the program immediately. And although sitting out a year was tough on Gabe, he is relishing his role as the starting big man for the Mustangs this season.
Going into tonight’s game against University of the Pacific, Gabe is third on the team in scoring with 11.2 per-game, first in rebounding with 5.8 per-game and also owns team-highs in free throws made and blocked shots.
Gabe doesn’t expect a playing opportunity after college, but said if he has a “great opportunity” to play, he would take it. However, you’ll most likely find him wading into the world of real estate development and investment when he graduates from Cal Poly this spring.