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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Cal Poly coach Joe Callero

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Cal Poly coach Joe Callero about having 1 of the best home records in the country.

callero

Your non-conference schedule includes games against Arizona, Oregon, Pitt, and Stanford. Which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? When you play a top-10 Arizona team that seems to add a good player every week, we feel that we have Mount Everest sitting right in front of us. If we do not improve quickly then we might lose by 60 points. They have a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans and transfers, and many people in the media think they are a Final Four contender.

Chris Eversley is your team’s top returning scorer and rebounder. How much pressure is there on him to be a leader this year? There is no pressure because he is a natural outstanding leader and a verbal kid. The pressure is just to stay healthy, which it was hard for him to do at the end of last year. He is such a critical part of our team.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I am an old-timer, so we just want to be playing our best basketball in February/March and have a healthy team. It does not matter if we are 4-7 in December or 8-3. We just want to max out who we are. We have two junior college kids and four freshmen who need to find their roles, but we are a mature group that does not have a lot of drama. We are trying to expand our scheduling to get back east to expand our brand and recruit some prep school kids from the east coast.

You are one of 16 children; How did growing up in such an enormous family affect you either on or off the court? You mean besides my mental health issues!? The unique part about being the eighth child of 16 is that I am very comfortable in a large environment with a lot of personalities and competition. There are constant jokes and loud Italian talking, but you build a bond with your siblings because we did not go out a lot or have a lot of people over. Parents are like the coaches and all the kids are like players. It is okay to have differences; you just have to work them out. I really enjoy the dynamics I have with my players because it is what makes me thrive in the game.

In a January 2012 your team made its first 11 three point shots in a win over Cal State Northridge. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot they put up seemed to go in because they were “in the zone”? The strange part about is that I knew we were hot, and I asked for a stat sheet at halftime. I thought we hit seven or eight threes, but my assistant looked at me and said, “Um, we hit 11”. It was not just one guy from the top of the arc. We had four or five players who were making long-range shots from all over the court. The best part is that it was a televised game, and before we started the second half the sideline reporter asked me if I knew that we had tied the NCAA record of 11 in a row. I turned to her and said, “You ever heard of a no-hitter?”. It turned out she had not, and of course we missed our very first three pointer of the second half!

In November 2012, you had four players each score 15+ points in a two point win at #11 UCLA (the school’s first ever win against a ranked opponent). Where does that rank among the biggest wins of your career? I think it will go down as perhaps the most recognized win in my career, but as far as an emotional connection I won a couple of titles at the junior college level and a conference title at the Division II level. Those wins were more rewarding because we got to cut down the nets in the final game of the year, but the UCLA win was certainly a great upset for our school.

In the 2013 Big West tourney, Travis Fulton scored 12 points and made a put-back with 1.3 seconds left in a two point win by Pacific. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? That was up there in the top five or 10. It was devastating to end the conference season that way and it sat in my stomach for a long time. We still got invited to play in our first Division I postseason tourney in school history, which was a great accomplishment. When you are right there and fighting for a title regardless of the level, there is a lot of emotion that goes into it.

You went 13-1 at home last season. How big of a home court advantage do you have at Mott Gym? I am prouder of our 8-0 record at home during conference play, as we put a lot of stock in our conference preparation. The only loss we had was to Fresno State, which I think helped us run the table from there on. This year we will bring in Nevada and Santa Clara and try to continue to build on that momentum. Mott Gym holds around 3,000 people including an excited student section that gets our guys jacked up. It is a small gym that gets a little hot, which is the type of atmosphere that I envisioned when I first got the job. The home-court advantage helps sell season tickets and allows recruits to see us win when they come to campus.

In the 2013 CIT, Scott Bamforth scored 23 points in a win by Weber State. What did your team learn from that loss that you think can help you this year? We actually brought that up yesterday during some conditioning drills. We ran a mile and then watched 45 minutes of film from the previous day’s practice. The point is that the hardest time to remain focused is when you are exhausted. In the CIT, we were academically strained and emotionally drained, but do you think Weber State cared?! We want to win the Big West tourney; be tired from giving a total effort and then find out on Selection Sunday where we are headed. Having the mental and emotional conditioning to bounce back after a loss is what I admire the most about NBA players and coaches. Win or lose, you have to move on to the next game.

You finished second in Division I in turnovers per game with just 9.4 a contest. How much of an emphasis do you place on ball control? We were number two behind Wisconsin, and we spent the first week of practice this year repeating the phrase “pass and catch”. They say that defense wins championships but I disagree. The most important part of defense is having a smart ball-control offense so that you do not have to run back to defend against a fast-break. My college coach was very sound. He taught me to get our good players the ball and not turn it over. We focus on improving the passing angles, making a good catch, etc. If you turn the ball over in practice, you get subbed out very quickly. It helps us stay in every game and keep the pace under control.

JonTeitel