BARRINGTON, R.I. — A gangly, inquisitive freshman walked into Barry Connors’ office at Cushing (Ashburnham, Mass.) Academy. Big glasses. Scrawny frame. The kind of kid who even his mother compared to Steve Urkel.
“Do you think I’m good enough to go to Syracuse?” Kaleb Joseph asked the head coach.
Connors looked at the budding prospect in front of him. He said he had enough talent to go, but that many other players had as much talent. He had to want it more. And that started with transferring to Cushing from Nashua (N.H.) High School.
Three years later, Joseph is preparing to be Tyler Ennis’ successor. Whether Ennis declares for the NBA Draft this year or in the future, Joseph has dropped the glasses, bulked up and readied himself to take the reins of the Orange offense.
Joseph stands 6 feet 2 inches, 165 pounds and is the 10th-best point guard in the country according to ESPN. He received offers from Ohio State, UConn and Marquette, among other schools, but is next in line to be the floor general in Central New York.
“Kaleb worked his ass off to get to that place,” Connors said.
As his dream has manifested into a reality, his confidence and passion have never wavered. Joseph has proven capable of replacing or working alongside Ennis in the coming years.
Both are playmakers with smooth games.
Ennis has become the most talked about freshman in a class full of potential NBA stars. He’s thrived atop SU’s zone while commanding the offense – just like Joseph hopes to next year.
Both players score when their team needs them to. On Saturday against Pittsburgh, Ennis scored six of the Orange’s final eight points en route to a signature 59-54 win. Against St. Andrew’s on Jan. 10, Joseph placed more of an emphasis on scoring because his team was down 20-plus and needed him.
Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins compared him to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook after watching him dunk, Joseph said. He bursts into the lane with a quick first step, and explodes at the rim once he gets there.
But unlike Westbrook, Joseph doesn’t have a strong supporting cast. The state championship team from last year returned only three of 14 players, and he’s had a difficult time adjusting.
Next year, though, when he dons orange for the first time, he’ll be surrounded by offensive weapons. He said he’ll be able to find Trevor Cooney in the gaps, Rakeem Christmas on the block and fellow signee Chris McCullough on the wing.
“I want to compete against the best of the best,” Joseph said. “I want to compete against the ACC. That’s the best conference in college basketball.”
Ennis’ coming-out party has come against those conference teams, and Joseph said they’d thrive together in the backcourt.
But if Ennis does declare for the draft in the near future, Joseph’s ready to take over right away.
“I want to go up against the best and prove that I’m the best,” Joseph said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Growing up in Nashua, Joseph was always the best player on the floor.
He first got into basketball when his sister played in high school and he had a crush on her teammate, Laura Aloisi. Joseph went to all the games to flirt with her and “all the pretty girls,” his mother Myryl Copeland said. He said he’s always liked the older girls. He was even booming with confidence then.
Joseph sharpened his game at the Nashua Boys and Girls Club before eventually transferring to Cushing after his freshman year to play in a more competitive league. He realized that if he wanted to achieve his longtime dream of playing for Syracuse, he needed to play against the best players in New England.
He said he wants to prove that he’s the best, so he actively works on his intensity, just like he hones his dribbling and shooting skills.
“It’s the little stuff,” Joseph said, “like diving on the floor for loose balls. It’s hard to play hard all the time, and that’s something I’m really trying to develop, especially before I go to college.”
If Ennis stays, Joseph is confident the two can mesh. He’s seen Dion Waiters and Michael Carter-Williams thrive in their second seasons after barely playing in their first, and is confident he could do the same if necessary.
If Ennis goes, Joseph says he’s ready to command the offense right away.
“They didn’t recruit me to sit on the bench,” Joseph said. “They recruit players who they think can make an impact.”
Published on January 22, 2014 at 1:55 am
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