January 16, 2007

Signs of Intelligent Life

Student-athlete. Often times it can be a contradiction in terms, like jumbo shrimp or pretty ugly. But not here, in San Luis Obispo, at California Polytechnic State University, where we've come to witness an "epic" hoops battle between the Cal Poly Mustangs and the Sacramento State Hornets.

In this remote west coast cradle of intelligence 293 miles north of Los Angeles the library is more popular than Mott Gym (when we pulled onto campus, it took a committee of students to point us towards the arena) and the average SAT score is almost 1,300. These kids are students first and athletes second. They have to be.

"Our academic standards really narrow the recruiting field," says Cal Poly assistant coach Tim Murphy. "Our evaluation process is different. We have to understand our athletes' motivations. They've got to go to class and be looking for an education, not just a place to play basketball."


VIDEO: MUSTANGS? STUDENTS SOUND OFF ON THE CAL POLY MASCOT

Okay, so the Mustangs have never won the Big West conference--they came close in 2003--and they've never made the field of 64, but that's only half the story. The other half is about GPA, late night study sessions and lots of lab time. These ballers can't just be hitting the boards, they've also got to be hitting the books.

"Classes are really hard here," says Matt Hanson, a junior forward on the team. "You've got to plan your days well. It's all about time management." This place is so brainy, they have a word scramble competition at halftime for the kids. Geez, why don't we just get out the Rubik's Cubes?






And to think we were in snowy Des Moines three days ago.

You get it. These ballplayers are smarter than the average bear. But why, if they're so intelligent, can they not consistently out fox their opponents on the basketball court? Shouldn't they be able to run a Princeton offense better than a group of thick-headed Neanderthals who wouldn't even know the true significance of a little number called pi? Shouldn't Cal Poly have their passing angles down to a science? Shouldn't they be the ultimate students of the game?

Apparently, intelligence doesn't really translate into athleticism. "Athletic instincts and book smarts are completely different things," says Murphy. "It is not like we are smarter on the court just because we are better in the classroom."

Maybe academic success doesn't always translate to sports, but tonight against Sacramento Sate, it did. Cal Poly beat the Hornets 74-65. Derek Stockalper looked especially smart on the court, shooting 7-10 from the field for 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Of course, many of the 1,500 Cal Poly fans in attendance, including the Mustang mascot, had already left by the time the game wrapped up. But can you really blame them? They've got class tomorrow and there's lots of homework to be done.

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Three-D
-The three most famous Cal Poly alums: John Madden and Weird "Al" Yankovic and Ozzie Smith.

-Jamba Juice was started by three Cal Poly grads in 1993. Originally it was called the California Juice Club.

-Best highway we've driven so far: Route 1. It's long, curvaceous as J-Lo and loaded with hairpin turns. A red Ferrari convertible would have been choice. As Ferris Bueller said, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

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