Lessons young players can learn from David Nwaba, and Mustangs win again

Updated: March 4, 2017

It’s been a few nights now since Cal Poly alum David Nwaba made his NBA debut. He played some late minutes, some good defense, and missed the only shot he took. 

On Friday night, he did better, scoring 7 points, grabbing a pair of rebounds, and earning a net plus-five rating for the game in 20 minutes.

Some nerves were involved with playing for the first time in front of the Staples Center crowd, but when all is said and done, David Nwaba is getting some time in the league. Nwaba has always had NBA physical ability, but his rise got me thinking — what are some lessons young players can learn from David Nwaba’s D League Tryout-to-NBA story?

David Nwaba drives during a game vs. Texas Southern in the NCAA Tournament. His Cal Poly Mustangs won their first-round game before being ousted by one-seed Wichita State in 2014.


With no Division I offers, Nwaba went to school at Hawaii-Pacific out of high school and redshirted. After a year there, he moved back to Los Angeles to attend Santa Monica Community College. Two years out of high school, Cal Poly and Joe Callero finally got him into a D-I uniform with the Mustangs.

Think about it. Nwaba is a guy who had zero Division I options out of high school. Less than a year after graduating college he’s in the NBA. And it’s not like he got drafted. He had to TRY OUT FOR THE D LEAGUE! 

Young guys — if you’re feeling down about not having offers you think you should have, think about David Nwaba and buck up. 

Playing the role

He was the most athletic player on the court from the time he got to Cal Poly, but Nwaba knew how to play a role. His sophomore season — the one the Mustangs went to the NCAA Tournament, he had to play the role of defensive stopper, guarding the opponents’ best perimeter player. 

Honestly, Nwaba was only more of a “featured” offensive player once his senior year rolled around. 

Flexibility and coachability

In his first two seasons at Cal Poly, Nwaba played as a small forward and shooting guard, in that order. In his senior year, Joe Callero played him as the primary ball handler for much of the year. It was a role that David took-on seemingly seamlessly, while still mostly guarding opponents’ best players. He did what was asked of him and never wavered in his aggression.

Accentuate the positives

David’s athleticism and speed are world-class. Instead of trying to prove he had a 50% jumper when he didn’t, Nwaba quietly worked on the lesser parts of his game while sharpening the edge on his relentless defense and ability to knife inside and get buckets. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is that if you do some things really well and you work hard, are patient, listen to coaches, and sometimes go way outside your comfort zone, that you have a real chance to be successful. Yeah, that sounds pretty good. 


Cal Poly wins third in a row

On Thursday night, Cal Poly won their third game in a row, with four players scoring in double figures. Donovan Fields led the run when the Mustangs pulled away. He made a few buckets, threw an alley-oop to Hank Hollingsworth:

the he did this:

Oh dear. The Mustangs are playing great and having fun at the right time. Look at ESPN Radio’s Mike Chellsen calling for the TO at the end of the video too. Classic. 

Fields finished the game with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Senior Ridge Shipley scored 17 points on 8-12 from the free throw line to go with his 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Luke Meikle had 12 points and four boards while Victor Joseph managed 12 points and 6 rebounds on a relatively quiet night for him. Zach Gordon had 8 points and 8 rebounds off the bench. 

Cal Poly can move up one seed if they win against UCSB at home on Saturday night and if Cal State Fullerton can beat CSUN at the Matadome. 

Photos by Owen Main