Old teammates will face off Thursday at the Cal Poly Men’s Basketball game, as head coach John Smith and graduate guard Jamal Smith will play against their former team for the first time.
Cal Poly (4-15, 1-4 Big West) is looking to break a three game losing streak against Cal State Fullerton (3-3, 8-13) on Thursday, Jan. 30th at 7 p.m. inside Mott Athletics Center. Now in his first year as head coach of the Mustangs, John spent the last six years as the associate head coach for the Titans.
“It’s going to be a surreal feeling because there’s a lot of players still there that I recruited or helped recruit,” John said. “[Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor] is a great friend of mine. He’s helped me get to where I’m at now and helped me with getting this job. But I have a job to do and the job is to try and prepare our team to win basketball games. That’s my main focus.”
Jamal was a point guard at Cal State Fullerton for four years. With the Titans, the father-son duo won the 2018 Big West Championship. This is the first meeting between the Mustangs and Titans this season. Cal Poly will play in Fullerton on Feb. 15.
“My time with the team was special,” Jamal said. “Winning the championship is hard. And during that process, you form bonds that go beyond basketball.”
For the Mustangs, who are looking for their second Big West Conference win, the game is being treated like any other.
“My thoughts for this Fullerton game is pretty much the same as any game,” Jamal said. “Obviously there’s more behind it, but still taking the same approach — study the film, come into practice ready with the same mentality to get a win.”
The Titans are currently in a three-way tie for third-place in the Big West Conference and are riding a three game win streak. A trio of seniors, guard Brandon Kamga, guard Austen Awosika and forward Jackson Rowe, lead the team in scoring. They each average 13 points per game.
“Jackson Rowe, Austen Awosika, those two are very hard to stop,” John said. “Being in individual workouts with those guys, I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses and I know that they’re going to fight to have their strengths come out against me.”
“I’m not scared to play against anybody,” Jamal said. “Never. But I’m excited to play against my matchup with [Awosika]. Obviously, we were both point guards at Fullerton. We have a really close bond. Definitely going to be a lot of trash talk going back and forth, but it’s going to be fun and exciting.”
A walk-on at Cal State Fullerton, Jamal redshirted his freshman season. In his last two years as a Titan, Jamal played in every game, averaging 19 minutes as a defensive mainstay.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is patience,” Jamal said. “I’ve come a long way, I’ve developed and I’m very appreciative of coach Taylor and the rest of the coaching staff for believing in me and just letting me grow and mold me into the player that I was for Fullerton and I became.”
For John, Cal State Fullerton is where he first coached at the Division I level. His six years of experience there prepared him to take the reigns at Cal Poly.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Fullerton and the people there,” John said. “When I’m down there recruiting, I even go in and meet with administrators and different people that I worked with on campus that helped mold me into the man and the leader that I am here at this level. I owe a lot to Fullerton and it holds a special place in my heart.”