Photo by Ryan Sidarto
Photo by Ryan Sidarto

Joe Callero likes Twitter. He tweets about the amazing Central Coast weather and getting a hot dog with his daughter, but mostly, he praises the Cal Poly men’s basketball team. Callero, the new men’s basketball head coach, strives to reform the team on and off the court.

In his unsolicited high praise, Callero demonstrates that he coaches to a beat few coaches have ever heard. The beat drums to the sound of dribbling basketballs and hits high notes similar to shoes skidding on a court. It encourages strong competitiveness, hard work and discipline. But it also pushes for encouragement and personal development. Callero wants his players to know he cares.

“These aren’t basketball players we care about, these are people that we care about, I’m coaching the players as people,” he said. “They’re our guys. They’ve gotta know that we believe in them, that we’re going to support them, that we see their improvement.”

And when Callero wants improvement, he makes sure the team and the coaches work hard to make it happen. In previous years, the men’s basketball team has struggled with academic ineligibility and a weak team chemistry. In an effort to build a team that is more than just teammates, Callero makes a point to look for recruits that not only show talent on the court, but also good character.

“We want guys that are selfless, that are willing to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful. We’re not selling you an all-star game, we’re selling you a team,” he said. “We’re saying ‘this is who we are, this is our family and if you choose not to be a part of our family then that’s fine, you know, we don’t need you.’”

Guard Charles Anderson specifically points out Callero’s recruiting style and the team’s natural desire to spend time together on and off the court as factors that will help them this season.

“He did a great job of recruiting a set of guys for the team. The guys he brought in were easy to get along with,” Anderson said. “We don’t have any individual players who are out for themselves.”

In order to remind players the real reason they’re attending Cal Poly, Callero is accepting nothing short of 100-percent effort academically. If a player misses class, shows up late to class, is not putting enough effort into their school work or hasn’t earned a 3.0 for at least two consecutive quarters, mandatory 7 a.m. study hall is in his future. Callero personally oversees the early Monday morning study hall because he said he wants to start out the week with the right emphasis and the right priority.

“It’s not the result, it’s whether you have the effort. They have to understand that the academic priority is there,” he said. “My goal isn’t to follow you around and check your class; my goal is to make sure you graduate.”

In addition, the coaches have been known to surprise their players by poking their head into their class to make sure they’re present. Guard Lorenzo Keeler laughed when asked about the coaches’ surprise visits but is glad for the change from coaches he’s had in the past.

“You have some coaches that strictly focus on basketball and our coaches now are focused on life,” he said. “For them to show up at our classes and take time out of their day and for coach to show up at 7 a.m. study hall really shows that they care.”

It’s that passion for people and academics that has helped guide most of Callero’s professional coaching career and it has led his teams to success. At his last coaching position at Seattle University, Callero helped guide the team back to Division I status after being dropped in 1980. Last season the Redhawks earned the best record of any Division I team (21-8) and Callero left the university with a 117-105 record. On the other side, the Mustangs men’s basketball team had a dismal 7-21 record for the 2008-2009 season and were dead last in the Big West Conference.

“I’ve always enjoyed going into a program and bringing a new energy, a new philosophy, a new spirit,” Callero said. “My ultimate goal here is to have a team that gets to the (NCAA) tournament and every one of those seniors graduate.”

Callero has developed a lot of his energy, spirit and philosophy from being involved in basketball for more than 30 years and from his basketball icons: his former basketball coaches in high school and college. But Callero’s greatest basketball influence is his dad who taught him to prioritize responsibilities.

“He was raising 16 kids and still found time to coach our Catholic Youth Organization teams and coached with a passion,” he said. “My dad was in love with the game but never allowed sports to take a greater meaning than what it was really about.”

This constant balance check became an idea Callero has carried with him throughout his professional coaching career. To Callero, it’s the small things that matter. He sees an importance in coaches coming to practice dressed in practice shorts, physically blocking players during drills and sending out late-night tweets about a great scrimmage during practice. He also sees a significance in a coach having the flexibility to move between nice coach, and rough coach.

“You have to have the flexibility to know when it’s the time to prod and when is the time to back off and praise. There’s times that it’s a kick in the rear and there’s times that it’s a pat on the back,” he said. “I think that most people respond a little bit more to the pat in the back but I’m not afraid to use the foot either.”

In the end, the way the players feel stretches back to his praise and his obvious support in everything they do. Forward David Hanson appreciates not only the hard work and the focus Callero demands, but also the hands-on role all the coaches put forth.

“He did a really good job bringing in guys that know basketball and they’re fun and knowledgeable. We’re behind him and he’s behind us. He demands a lot,” Hanson said. “But at the same time, he’s right there with us.”

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2 Comments

  1. Where are the hyperlinks in your article? (Not only you, but most of the MD reporters). Where’s the link to Callero’s twitter? Why aren’t you linking to the individual tweets about the weather and his daughter!? CONTEXT

    1. I did post links when I uploaded, but I’m not sure why they didn’t work. Same thing with the graduate story. I’m trying to get them fixed right now.

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