Credit: Diego Rivera | Mustang News

Cal Poly Men’s Basketball will enter the 2019-2020 season having underwent significant change in both their coaching staff and their roster following last season’s 6-23 record, which ended in the departure of longtime head coach Joe Callero.

However, the Mustangs ares looking to have a “breakout year” in 2019-2020, freshman forward Alimamy Koroma said.

“Last year was not so good,” Koroma said. “We want to get that over with and make an impression on the Cal Poly community the [San Luis Obispo] community.”

First-year head coach John Smith said he is looking to lead the program back to its short-lived prominence as a championship force in the Big West Conference. Smith also played for legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. Similarly to many of Tarkanian’s successful teams, Cal Poly Basketball is being built around timing, execution and defense, according to Smith. 

“We’re trying to focus on the timing of our offense, getting the spacing and taking care of the ball, and moving it from the top side and getting as much paint-touches as possible … execution has been our focus in practice the last couple of weeks,” Smith said.

Redshirt junior Nolan Taylor echoed Smith’s focus on defense when asked about the team’s progression.

“Our defense is very good right now,” Taylor said. “Its at a good energy level, so we’re starting to focus on our offensive execution more.”

The Mustangs went 2-2 in a Tour of London this summer, competing against two professional teams from the British Basketball League. While the summer tournament counted as a set of exhibition games, the team lost its official season opener to Santa Clara 77-63

While conference-play does not begin until Jan. 8, predictions on the team’s performance have been less than favorable. 

The Big West Conference media poll picked Cal Poly to finish last in the conference and no Cal Poly players made the preseason all-conference team.

Most national media also predicts Cal Poly will not have much success. ESPN and 24/7 sports both predicted the team will finish in the bottom of the conference with the worst odds to win the Big West Tournament. 

The Cal Poly roster is composed of six returners, while the remaining eight players had not made debuts before the start of the season. 

Sophomore guard Junior Ballard appeared in 15 of Cal Poly’s games last season and scored 17 points in the season opener at Santa Clara. Taylor, who was ineligible last season due to NCAA transfer rules, will also step into a much bigger role. Taylor was the team’s primary rebounding threat during the Tour of London Tournament.

Senior forward Hank Hollingsworth returns to the court only 24 blocks away from the program record held by Varnie Dennis. Junior wing Mark Crowe is also returning as a significant threat from the three-point range. Crowe ranks 41st in all of Division I Basketball with a shooting percentage of 40.8 from the three.

When asked if there are any games in the schedule that stand out to him, Smith offered an answer grounded in the present.

“I’m one game at a time, one play at the time,” Smith said. “Right now, that’s my main focus. I don’t even know who we play after [Santa Clara]. I just know I need to pack.”

Koroma said fans should look forward to good basketball from a “hungry” Cal Poly team.

“I’m probably going to dunk on someone,” Koroma said. “So you should come see that.” 

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