The Cal Poly men’s basketball team (2-3) is still searching for its offensive identity — three weeks into the season.
The reason? Inexperience, said head coach Joe Callero. Players like redshirts Chris O’Brien and Drake U’u — as well as freshmen Maliik Love and Jamal Johnson — are still trying to get into the flow of the game time atmosphere.
“This season, I would say our rebounding gets an ‘A,’ our defense gets a ‘B’ and our offense gets a ‘C’ — that’s where we need to work,” Callero said. “It’s about game time experience. We just need more games under our belt.”
Cal Poly men’s basketball is a young team, with two-thirds of its starters underclassmen. Overall, the Mustangs have just one senior on the roster — guard Shawn Lewis.
The team’s inexperience is evident in its box scores. Coming into this week, the Mustangs average 60 points per game, which is 10 points less than what they averaged all of last season. Only once this season have the Mustangs scored more than 70 points. The team ranks last among all nine Big West Conference teams in scoring offense, field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.
Both Johnson and Love have tried to help on the offensive end, but neither have scored double digits in any of their first five games. Both seem capable.
At Madison High School in San Antonio, Texas, Johnson averaged 10 points and 5 assists per game as a junior and Love averaged 20 points per game and close to 10 rebounds per game at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif.
For both, that success hasn’t translated into the college ranks just yet.
“Their job at this point in their career is to just run the team, take care of the ball,” Callero said. “What I am looking for from them is improving their assist-to-turnover ratio. That’s the most important area they can continue to work on.”
Even though the Mustangs lack experience, they still have some offensive playmakers on the roster. The team includes talents like Lewis, forward David Hanson and center Will Donahue this season as scoring threats on the court. All three have combined for 206 of the team’s 302 points this season.
Many thought O’Brien would be part of that scoring group this season. But to this point, he is struggling to find his scoring touch. O’Brien, who transferred from San Francisco two years ago, is a 6-foot-4 guard who would give relatively small Mustang lineup size, too. He said he believes he can be one of the team’s top scorers this year, but he just needs to keep things simple on the court.
“I think I was playing too fast, too anxious, too excited,” O’Brien said. “It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve played in an actual Division I game. I think each game I’m getting more and more comfortable playing and it’s opening more opportunities for me scoring. I think the last couple of games I’ve finally been settling in and I’ve figured out what I need to do.”
Hanson — who played for Cal Poly as a true freshman — has done his part to try and help O’Brien and other inexperienced players become familiar with their surroundings this season. He has been in his teammates’ shoes, he said.
“I try to lead by example,” Hanson said. “I try to let them know that I, and the rest of the team, have confidence in them so they can perform the best way they can.”
In turn, getting his teammates going might be what the Mustangs need to get rid of the inconsistencies on the offensive end, Hanson said. While Hanson is generating most of the offense, he said he tries his best to get O’Brien — and guard U’u — comfortable enough to excel on the court on a consistent basis. The two could add another dimension to Cal Poly’s offense.
“In order for us to win games, we need (O’Brien and U’u) to perform at a high level on a nightly basis,” Hanson said. “We need huge contributions from them.”
For now, low point totals and the team’s combined .377 field goal percentage continues to plague the Mustangs. And with a limited roster due to injuries, there aren’t many options for Cal Poly to turn to. As the season goes on, and players get more experienced, hopefully points will follow, O’Brien said.
“Each guy, one through 15, needs to realize their own role in order for us to be successful,” O’Brien said. “I think each day it has gotten better. Hopefully we can put good basketball together come conference, make a run at the tournament and see where that takes us.”