The night before facing his former co-worker and player for the first time, Cal State Fullerton Men’s Basketball head coach Dedrique Taylor only had good things to say about Cal Poly head coach John Smith and graduate guard Jamal Smith.
“You’ll see the benefit of Jamal and coach Smith being here 2, 3, 4 years down the line,” head coach Dedrique Taylor said. “Just because of their experience together, but also their love for each other, the relationship between the two of them— it will permeate throughout the course of their program as time moves on.”
Cal Poly (4-15, 1-4 Big West) will play Cal State Fullerton (8-13, 3-3 Big West) for the first time since the Smiths’ departure on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. inside Mott Athletics Center.
John was the associate head coach for the Titans for six years, while Jamal played point guard for the team for four years before transferring to Cal Poly this season. The father and son duo had a significant impact on the Cal State Fullerton program, which they are now bringing to Cal Poly.
“Coach Smith definitely left this school [after] engraving a culture of working hard, being honorable and playing the game properly,” senior forward Jackson Rowe said. “His principles as a man are really high-class, and so he brings that to the court… so all of his players are going to look up to Coach Smith.”
Taylor was hired prior to the 2013 season. John was the first hire that the Cal State Fullerton staff made with Taylor at the helm. After three straight losing seasons, including back-to-back ninth place finishes, the Titans finished 17-15 in the 2016-17 season. In the next season, Taylor and John led the Titans to win the 2018 Big West Championship and a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“He meant a tremendous amount to us as we started to build our program … his ability to relate to our kids and our players, his ability to relate to the families that we were recruiting, just his overall experience is something that we wanted,” Taylor said.
John played a pivotal role in the recruiting effort during his time there. Among his recruits are three all-Big West performers, including a former Big West Freshman of the Year in Rowe.
“You can see coach Smith is definitely the coach you want to have around if you’re trying to rebuild a program to build it stronger,” Rowe said. “His principles of a man are really high class … all the players are going to look up to coach Smith and see he’s able to put that in them.”
While the win-loss record may not show it at the moment, there are signs that the Smiths have had a positive impact on Cal Poly so far. John’s early recruiting for Cal Poly has shown well, as freshman guard Colby Rogers is the team’s second leading scorer despite starting only five games.
In addition, Jamal is second on the team in assists and has offered a steady defensive presence in his first year at Cal Poly. Jamal’s Cal State Fullerton teammates spoke on the impact he has on the court.
“Jamal is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had, he’s like a brother to me,” senior guard Austen Awosika said. “He’s one of those teammates that will run through a wall for you and play hard every possession.”
Taylor further explained Jamal’s value to the team beyond his play.
“First and foremost he’s the son of a coach,” Taylor said. “That type of IQ, experience and understanding of the game is invaluable.”
The Smith duo have brought their intensity and passion for the game to Cal Poly. Although the Titans have won the last seven games against the Mustangs, they have noticed the new intensity around Cal Poly this year.
“[They’ve brought] a lot of heart and energy compared to previous Cal Poly teams,” Awosika said. “They play much harder and more together.”
Although John was a great asset for the Cal State Fullerton coaching staff and program as a whole, there was nothing but positive output from the players and the rest of the staff following his appointment at Cal Poly.
“I was surprised at first, but I’m glad he’s getting a head coaching job, it’s a step-up in his career,” Rowe said. “I knew once coach Smith left, that Jamal was going to leave as well, and it’s just a good opportunity for him. It’s good to see my close friends and family getting respect.”
Taylor said he sees a bright future for the Mustangs with John and Jamal as an integral part of the rebuilding process.
“For those two guys to endure some of the things that we went through at Cal State Fullerton, and then to be able to reward them with a lifetime opportunity of being a head coach and being able to play for your dad, I don’t know that we could’ve scripted it any better in terms of the ending,” Taylor said.