For the last month, Men’s Basketball head coach John Smith has been trying to wake up with the right mindset.
At least, that is what the book he has been reading, “Waking Up With the Right Mindset” by Ivory Hunter, has been challenging the new head coach to accomplish.
“You’ve got to stay positive to make a positive impact with people on a daily basis,” Smith said. “If you’re consumed with all the adversity or the negative things that are going in your life, the energy will come off negative.”
Smith is using the book, among other things, to set the tone for team workouts and build chemistry for the upcoming season. Smith, who was introduced as Men’s Basketball’s new head coach on March 28, said figuring out how players want to be pushed and motivated has been his primary focus in bringing the best out of his team.
“You can’t do that, coming in right away and just slapping the hammer down,” Smith said. “You have to get to know people.”
Sophomore wing Mark Crowe described Smith as “a player’s coach” and noted the support the team received from him in early training sessions with the team.
“He wants us to have a good amount of control in what we’re doing, what we want to do [and] how things are going,” Crowe said. “He’s gonna ask us what we liked, what we didn’t liked, stuff like that. He’s been really supportive and easy to play for so far.”
While getting to know his team is one thing, Smith comes in knowing the Big West Conference, serving as an associate head coach for six seasons at Cal State Fullerton from 2013-19. Smith’s familiarity with the Big West Conference was one of the factors in his hiring by Athletics Director Don Oberhelman, according to Smith.
“[Smith’s] coaching and teaching experience, commitment to academic excellence, and desire to lead and mentor young men have made him the clear choice for Cal Poly,” Oberhelman said in a March 28 press release about his hiring.
In his final three seasons with the Titans, Smith coached the team to three consecutive post-season berths from 2017-19, including an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018.
“To get to the NCAA Tournament, it takes only one team to win the Big West Conference Tournament, and the last eight years we’ve had a different champion,” Smith said. “So the opportunity to win in this conference is immediate, but you have to know this conference to win it.”
Smith is now tasked with rebuilding a Mustang program that finished 6-23 last season and went 2-14 in Big West action. However, he is no stranger to rebuilding programs. Smith rebuilt San Bernardino Valley College’s program and took them to the California Community College Athletic Association semifinals in 2003. Later, Smith rebuilt Riverside City College’s program and coached them to a state championship in 2009 in his fourth year as coach there.
“I’m excited about building programs,” Smith said. ” That’s what I love to do. From a basketball standpoint, that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Rebuilding Cal Poly’s program includes implementing a new vision for the team. Smith said his direction for the program includes an emphasis on defensive techniques, adaptability on both offense and defense and a faster pace of play.
In the 2018-19 season, Cal Poly’s adjusted tempo rate — used to indicate how fast a team plays — was 66.2 possessions per 40 minutes and ranked No. 255 nationally out of 353 programs under previous head coach Joe Callero, according to KenPom. Cal State Fullerton had an adjusted tempo rate of 69.9 possessions per 40 minutes and was No. 72 in the nation.
“The main thing is changing the narrative of what people feel about Cal Poly Men’s Basketball, starting with ourselves,” Smith said. “Once we get it all in place, and the piece is in place, then hopefully, day-by-day, game-by-game, it will impose its will on our opponents.”
To help impose Cal Poly’s will on its opponents will be incoming guard Colby Rogers. The 6-foot-5 Covington, Georgia native played his senior season at nationally ranked Roselle Catholic High School in Roselle, New Jersey. There, he averaged 12.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists en route to a 28-4 record and a No. 17 finish in USA Today’s Super 25 poll.
“Colby is a kid that can stretch the floor,” Smith said. “He has great length. He can defend multiple positions, so he gives us more flexibility at the wing position.”
Getting the pieces in place, Rogers included, requires Smith to build the cohesive unit Cal Poly needs. And thoughts from Hunter’s “Waking Up With the Right Mindset,” combined with Smith’s own experiences, play a key role in building team spirits with the head coach’s daily thoughts before practice.
“The thought today was ’10 strong horses can pull a baby carriage, [but you] can’t pull a baby carriage independently of each other,’” Smith said. “You can be as talented as you want, but if you work independently of each other, you’re not going anywhere.”