Matthew Ho is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News sports columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Every time I’ve talked to one of the players or coaches in the Cal Poly men’s basketball program, there’s one thing that always stands out: togetherness.
Even in a year where the team struggled to win games and particularly close them out, the team stayed together through adversity.
Their efforts could come to fruition as soon as next season, as Head Coach John Smith and the coaching staff have recruited four impact players into the program. Bryan Penn-Johnson is one of those players.
An interior presence on both ends that uses his physical tools to deter shots around the basket and finish above the rim. Also has sneaky mobility to stay in front of guards on the perimeter and contest shots
Height/weight: 7’1. 260 lbs.
Previous school: East Los Angeles College (ELAC)
Eligibility: Two years remaining
2021-22 season stats: 8.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 66.7 FG%
A four-star recruit coming out of Utah, Penn-Johnson is a dominant inside force. He sports a 7’7 wingspan and a 9’7 standing reach, allowing him to protect the rim on defense and finish on the offensive end.
“Bryan takes our defensive scheme to another level,” Coach Smith said.
The Mustang defense forces offenses toward the outside of the floor and prevents teams from getting middle penetration. The best way to do that is by applying ball pressure and pushing ball handlers to the sidelines.
With Penn-Johnson on the backline cleaning up around the rim, perimeter defenders can get into the ball and don’t have to worry as much about getting beat off the dribble.
Coach Smith projects Penn-Johnson and junior big man Alimamy Koroma playing next to each other in the starting lineup next season, saying that “both are mobile and athletic, defensively.”
On the defensive end, this gives the team a double rim protector look. Koroma was one block short of the program’s single-game record in his sophomore year. Bringing in Penn-Johnson, who led ELAC in blocks last season, will fortify the Mustangs’ interior defense.
Penn-Johnson also isn’t the typical slow-footed seven-footer that opposing teams might assume he is. He can move his feet on the perimeter and contain ball handlers. His mobility will give the coaching staff a lot of options in regard to ball screen coverage.
If an opposing player is attacking the basket out of pick and roll, the Mustangs could opt to push Penn-Johnson to the level of the screen to prevent the opposing player from turning the corner. The team could also decide to drop Penn-Johnson into the paint and bait the offensive player into taking a contested mid-range jumper.
Penn-Johnson played at the junior college level last season where a majority of big men play on the perimeter. He would consistently have to guard players that were spacing him to the three-point line and get him involved in a lot of motion on the offensive end.
Despite the quickness advantage players might’ve had on him, he was able to stay on the floor. Per Synergy stats, players shot 34.3% in spot-up situations, 16.7% in isolation and 22.2% in pick and roll when Penn-Johnson was involved in the play.
Because he was able to stay on the floor as a true center, it allowed him to use his tools on the offensive end by scoring in the post, cleaning up missed shots and catching lobs.
In regards to Koroma and Penn-Johnson’s offensive fit together, it will be something to monitor. Koroma thrived in post-up situations. With Penn-Johson in the fold, the spacing might be tough for Koroma. Koroma did show he can become more of a perimeter player by stepping out to the three-point line and driving from there, which could make the pairing work.
Nonetheless, with Penn-Johnson added to the frontcourt, the Mustangs’ already suffocating defense has gotten even tougher to score on.
This article is part of a series on Cal Poly Men’s Basketball’s incoming class of players. Stay tuned for more to come.