With seven new players joining the team, Cal Poly Men’s Basketball will look to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish in the Big West Conference. After finishing the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 9-22 and a 4-12 record in conference play, the Mustangs will need to turn things around this season in order to make the NCAA Tournament come March.
The team welcomed five freshmen, in addition to two new players who will redshirt this season due to transfer rules. The Mustangs’ first game is against Menlo College on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in Mott Athletics Center.
“Our team has great quickness and we have great chemistry,” Men’s Basketball head coach Joe Callero said. “So I think that if we can continue to push the ball at people at the right times, share the ball at the right times and play our defense like we’ve done … that’s gonna be the key for us.”
Callero’s claim that the team already has a high level of chemistry is noteworthy because of the new batch of players, who are learning the Mustangs’ playbook for the first time. Senior point guard Donovan Fields said he is ecstatic to integrate the new players into the team and spoke highly of their capabilities.
“[The freshmen] are gonna step up this year,” Fields said. “They all can do a lot of different things and when you look at the conference, they’re new guys so there’s not a lot of scouting reports on them. I really expect these guys to do big things this year.”
As team captain, Fields has established himself as a leader for the Mustangs both on and off the court. After five seniors graduated last year, Callero said he saw that Fields had matured from last season and knew he was ready to lead.
“This is not just his time,” Callero said about Fields’ increased role in the team. “It’s his responsibility.”
One of his responsibilities will be helping the Mustangs through a month-long road trip, where the team will play seven away games, starting at the University of Arizona. With the Wildcats being one of college basketball’s perennial powerhouses, Fields hopes their game will serve as a major mental test before Big West Conference play begins Jan. 9 at UC Santa Barbara.
“[Playing at Arizona] is something I’m pretty sure all the guys have dreamed about, playing in a big arena like that against a Pac-12 team,” Fields said. “For me, it’s just a big learning experience for myself and for the team … our chemistry and getting all those things right for conference season.”
Fields also noted the difficulty of mentally preparing for a month-long road trip and described it as, “just one of those things you just gotta get through.”
Big West Conference play has spelled tough times for the Mustangs in recent years, as the team finished in either seventh or eighth place in each of their last four seasons. Cal Poly was defeated 75-53 in the first round of last year’s Big West Conference Tournament. While both Fields and Callero concede that the Mustangs have a deficit in their size, Fields said he believes in the team’s grit and determination to make their size an advantage with a quick playing tempo.
Despite the undersized squad and their previous records in conference play, the team has its eyes set on earning the opportunity to go dancing at the NCAA Tournament when March rolls around.
“We just gotta be tough,” Fields said. “Night in and night out, we gotta play each possession as hard as we can and just fight each and every night. We gotta work hard and practice every single day and just keep getting better.”