To the players on the Cal Poly Men’s Basketball team, Joe Callero was more than just a basketball coach. In addition to his job as the bench boss of the Mustangs, Callero took on a bigger role, displaying his genuine care for his student-athletes — as both basketball players and men.
“‘My first impression of [Callero] was that he really cared about his players,” former guard Victor Joseph said, remembering when Callero recruited him to come to Cal Poly.
The morning after attending one of Joseph’s games at Chaffey College, Callero met with Joseph and his family.
“He could’ve offered me a scholarship and left, but he decided to stay another night and really have that interaction with my family,” Joseph said.
Joseph also remembered the rough welcoming Callero gave him to full-time university academic life. After skipping a class in his second week at Cal Poly, he received a text from Callero asking if he had missed class.
“I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way he found out, it’s a big lecture,’” Joseph said. “I was thinking I should lie, but I told the truth.”
Callero’s reply did not come until a few days later, on a Sunday night.
“I get hit with a text: ‘6 a.m. on the track tomorrow,’” Joseph said. “[Callero’s] like, ‘We don’t miss class around here. This isn’t junior college. We don’t miss these classes.’”
“Yeah, he’s on you for that,” senior guard Marcellus Garrick said. “If you miss tutoring, you’re running miles and stuff like that.”
“I was extremely mad then,” Joseph said. “I was like, ‘Bro, this is one class.’ But in the long run, I don’t think I missed too many classes on purpose after that.”
Current and former players agreed that Callero was a head coach that was focused on the bigger picture.
“There’s lot of life outside basketball,” senior point guard Donovan Fields said, remembering an important lesson Callero taught him. “If you have a bad day on the court, it shouldn’t affect you outside the court.”
“I used to get so down on myself about everything,” Garrick said. “Anything basketball related, it would affect my life. I wouldn’t go to class, I wouldn’t want to talk to anybody. I’d have a negative energy.”
When it came to basketball, Callero himself refused to display a negative attitude in front of his players.
“Day in, day out, we’ll come into the locker room and he’s coming in excited to show us film, excited to help us get better, excited to show us the game plan,” Joseph said.
Callero has led the Mustangs through some tough times recently, as the team has started Big West Conference play with a losing record for the past five years. However, Joseph said Callero always brought the same energy to practice, win or lose.
“It helps you as a player because when you’re on a losing streak, you’re already going to be mad,“ Joseph said. “If you went to practice and that same energy was given off by your coach, it would be a down practice. But all these practices, we had the same high energy, as if we were on a winning streak.”
Callero was also focused on having one-on-one interactions with his players. According to Joseph, Callero would take each of his players out for dinner or host them for a home-cooked meal.
“Just having little stuff like that to have a one-on-one interaction with your coach, some coaches get too busy recruiting and stuff in the off-season, but he always took that time each year,” Joseph said.
To his players, Callero’s constant high energy, his focus on the bigger picture and his dedication to improving his student-athletes in all aspects of their lives was what made him a leader.
“I’ll miss him so much,” Fields said. “The whole coaching staff, everybody on the team, will miss him.”