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Men's Basketball: Nashua's Joseph makes best of his second chance

By JOE DUBALL
New Hampshire Union Leader

November 22. 2017 10:10PM

After sitting out a year following his transfer from Syracuse, Nashua's Kaleb Joseph is working his way into the rotation at Creighton. (Mark Kuhlmann/Creighton Media Services)

All of us have or will at one point in our lives be stripped of a dream. It’s an unfortunate truth and one that Creighton point guard Kaleb Joseph knows all too well.

Sure, it’s hard to say the Nashua native is in a tough spot playing Division I basketball, which most New Hampshire ballers only dream of doing. However, it’s been two years without meaningful basketball for Joseph. He sat out the 2016-2017 season after transferring from Syracuse, where he went from starting as a freshman to the back of the bench as a sophomore.

“There are certain obstacles in life that come up and you can’t really plan for them,” Joseph said. “You can’t shy away from it or fold. You have to face it like a man and that’s the most important thing. I love basketball and plan on doing it as long as I can, but it’s really about being a man because that goes on way after you stop playing.”

Joseph’s freshman year at Syracuse had him on pace to be a piece to the Orange’s puzzle for years to come. He started 30 of 31 games in 2014-2015 for what he deemed his “dream school,” averaging 5.9 points and 3.8 assists across nearly 28 minutes a night.

The momentum Joseph built up in that first season with Syracuse never amounted to anything more though. What should’ve been a breakout campaign as a sophomore turned out to be a season of warming the bench. Joseph lost his starting job and averaged just six minutes a game while Syracuse went on to make it to the Final Four, where Joseph didn’t touch the floor once in any postseason game.

According to Syracuse.com, after the 2015 season, Joseph’s severe role relegation was the first for a Syracuse player in 40 years. The report went on to say that Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim had previously justified the move during the season, saying Joseph practiced hard but other players provided more on-court production.

“There was a lot going on at Syracuse,” said Joseph, referring to the NCAA’s unprecedented sanctions against the Orange following a lengthy investigation into improprieties. “The reason for (the demotion) is something I couldn’t really tell you. It’s too stressful to sit there and try to figure it out there. You just sit there and control what you can control, and then everything will play itself out when it’s all said and done.

“There have been many great players that have gone through worse and still come out on top.”

Joseph remained very loyal to the Orange despite the demotion. He said he continued working hard on the scout team and continued to be an encouraging and sound presence from the bench for his teammates and friends game-in and game-out. But when his sophomore year came to a close, Joseph knew his time at Syracuse had run its course.

“It’s a business where you have to make the best decision for yourself and your career. I thought it was best-suited for me to leave,” Joseph said.

Opening up to other schools had its peaks and valleys for Joseph. On the one hand, Joseph was learning that he was still valued given the interest he was receiving. On the other side was the fear of blindly falling into another bad situation like the one he had already removed himself from.

“The transfer process was tough because you make a decision but you don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” Joseph said. “I wanted to go to Syracuse no matter what and I made that decision on my own. I wish I had more information on the whole process and the type of questions I should’ve been asking. It would’ve been less about following a dream and more about what’s best for your business. All that was in mind the second time around.”

Among the schools interested in Joseph’s services was Creighton, which had recruited him during his prep school days at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass. Blue Jays head coach Greg McDermott liked what he saw in high school and nothing had changed after the guard showed he could in fact succeed in college as well.

“He had watched enough of our games to see the style that we play and he felt it would be a fit for him,” McDermott said. “I’ve always been extremely impressed with him as a person, which was one of my main attractions to him. I thought he’d be a great leader and had all the attributes I like in a point guard.”

The transfer to Creighton was made official in April 2016. Joseph’s clean slate had a catch, though, as he would have to sit out the 2016-2017 season per NCAA rules. Joseph knew the move would cost him a year but struggled with sitting out again, especially since he would not even be able to be with the team during games. However, Joseph came to realize the time away from the court was a blessing.

“It was a great experience mostly because I got a lot of opportunity to observe and see what this team was missing,” Joseph said. “It allowed me to kind of work on my game and cater to the needs.”

“I also got a chance to sit back and learn while seeing the game from a coach’s perspective. You see the mental mistakes and errors. Like some guys are so capable, but get so nervous from the environment and outside influences. It taught me a lot about keeping things simple and focusing on the game.”

Gaining perspective from the year away was certainly boost, but McDermott saw overall progress with Joseph’s overall performance on the floor as well.

“His shooting has gotten better and his ball handling is a little tighter, but hopefully he’s got a little more confidence,” McDermott said. “To go from playing and then not playing, especially when you’re young, really hits your confidence. I think he’s in a better place now than he’s ever been in that regard.”

The return to live action came in the last two weeks when Joseph played in Creighton’s first two wins of the season before sitting out an upset of No. 20 Northwestern on Wednesday last week. Joseph scored three points in four minutes during the Blue Jays’ season-opening win over Yale on Nov. 10 before scoring 10 points to go with four assists in 11 minutes in a victory over Alcorn State two days later.

Those performances come after Joseph sat out much of Creighton’s preseason with a hamstring injury. The light game action was used more to ease Joseph back into playing.

“I’m starting to get a good feel for things now,” Joseph said. “I’m excited for the challenge to step back into things. Scoring those 10 points in 11 minutes was super efficient though and really all you can ask for when you’re trying to show coaches you’re back. You have to be efficient with the time you have so more opportunities come.”

Joseph is part of a four-guard rotation, which is why he sat out the Northwestern game. McDermott opted to ride the hot hand in that game, which was no slight against Joseph, who McDermott thinks will thrive under the competition for minutes.

“The reality of it is that he missed time while other guys were playing and moving forward. Now you come back and they’re just in a different place than you are,” McDermott said. “He has to stay ready and when his number is called, he’s got to be ready to go and I think he was had his number been called against Northwestern.

“I don’t want him to be content with the role he has now. I want him to work to change that while being mature enough to accept where he is now and improve the best he can, and I think he’ll do all that.”

jduball@unionleader.com


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