Tempered expectations is the name of the game for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team this year, as a new coach hopes to lead the Mustangs from the doldrums of the Big West and back into contention.
Coach Joe Callero, in his first year at the helm of the Mustangs, is in no hurry to brand his team as a Big West Title contender — not this season, at least. But he does have some modest, measurable goals for his team as he tries to turn the beleaguered program around.
“Our goal and expectation this year is to establish a winning record on our home court,” Callero said. “That’s the first part to returning a team to competence.”
Last year, the Mustangs came nowhere near achieving that. The 7-21 squad notched only three wins in 15 tries in the confines of Mott Gym — an awful mark regardless of the expectations. In fact, it was part of the reason that 14-year Head Coach Kevin Bromley was fired, paving the way for Callero’s reign. This year, Cal Poly is 2-1 at home, with the sole loss coming by four points to a tough Montana State squad.
If three home games seem like very few for this stage in the season, that’s because it is. Nine of Cal Poly’s first 12 games have been on the road, a grueling start to the season for a team that needs all the help it can get. The Mustangs came away from the stretch with their dignity intact at 4-8, but having sustained major beatings at the hands of Wisconsin, Stanford and St. Mary’s.
“We scheduled quite difficultly,” Callero said. “Three of those games have been against high major opponents. That was quite a chunk of meat to try and digest.”
However, Callero believes the difficult preseason will help his team in the long run.
“We’ve shown that we can be a pretty resilient team,” he said. “We took a real smacking on the lip up at Wisconsin… as far as score, totally being outplayed and outclassed. But what we’re seeing is a team that’s really resilient… we’ve improved. Those eight road games really helped prepare us.”
That preparation showed in Cal Poly’s first Big West Conference match of Callero’s tenure: A 95-81 win over a tough UC Irvine squad on the road.
Even with the conference-opening victory, Callero does not want to set the bar too high for his team. The Big West season is long and filled with momentum-swings, so the Mustangs will be just trying to keep their focus directly ahead of them.
“[Priority] number one is just consistency. Developing the mindset that every practice is critical, every possession is critical and every game is critical … We’re measuring our goals in more than wins and losses.”