He arrived at Syracuse University as an under-the-radar recruit. A native of hockey-crazed Montreal, he earned his prep basketball stripes at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., the same school that produced SU basketball great Lawrence Moten and football star QB Marvin Graves.
As a freshman, he was strictly a role player, averaging 3.4 points per game. He nevertheless made an impression on teammates Paul Harris and Andy Rautins.
“As he grows I think he’s going to be a star here, he’s got that kind of potential,” said Rautins, now a member of the New York Knicks.
Harris echoed Rautins’s sentiments.
“I see him as a next level type of player,” Harris said.
Turns out that Harris and Rautins were pretty good evaluators of talent when it came to Kris Joseph.
Last season, as a sophomore, Joseph started to live up to the potential others saw, averaging nearly 11 points a game, third-best on the team. As Coach Jim Boeheim’s first reserve off the bench, Joseph was a key member of an SU team that went 30-5, achieved the number one spot atop the basketball polls and was an Arinze Onuaku injury away from possibly claiming a national championship. So significant were his contributions that the 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward was named Big East Conference Sixth Man of the Year and Conference Sixth Man of the Year by Yahoo! Sports.
“Kris had a tremendous year,” Boeheim said at the team’s Media Day in October. “Last year was a perfect year for Kris. He came in and was able to find his spots. Most of the defensive scrutiny was on Wes (Johnson) and Andy and Arinze so I think he got an opportunity to do things in a pretty free-flowing way.”
Kris Joseph is no longer under the radar. Entering the 2010-2011 season, the always-smiling junior has already been projected as a late first-round selection in many NBA mock drafts and has emerged as the Orange’s go-to guy and one of the team’s leaders along with senior forward/center Rick Jackson and junior point guard Scoop Jardine.
No one doubts that Joseph is up to the challenge, certainly not Joseph himself.
“Basketball is basketball,” said Joseph, who started playing basketball at the age of 9 while most of his Montreal buddies were turning their attention to hockey. “I’m ready for whatever coach wants me to do and the role I need to take. I have a great supporting cast. I know I need to take on more of the scoring so I’ve been working on my jump shot over the summer to make sure I can knock it down more consistently from 15 (feet) on out. Yeah, I’ll have a different role but I’ll be ready to step into that role and I’m definitely comfortable in it. There’s no pressure. I’ll let everything take care of itself.”
Boeheim shares his player’s confidence.
“This year the defensive intensity will be more focused on him but I think Kris is ready. I think he wants that challenge and I think he’s fully capable at this stage of his career to be a go-to type of guy,” Boeheim added.
Boeheim compares Joseph to Moten, the Big East’s and SU’s all-time leading scorer, as the best player he’s coached in getting to the basket, but it’s the ability to hit the outside shot that will determine how high Joseph’s ceiling will be.
“Kris is very good with the ball and can drive to the basket as well as anybody we’ve had here. If I had to compare him to anybody, I would compare him to Lawrence in his ability to handle the ball,” Boeheim said. “They both could put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and make plays. Kris is bigger and stronger. Lawrence became a very, very good 3-point shooter, that’s what made him difficult to stop. If Kris shoots the ball better, which I believe he can, that will add to his game.”
Joseph recorded a 49 percent shooting average a year ago, but many of those came from point-blank range. He shot just 22 percent from 3-point range.
Assistant coach Rob Murphy, who works with the team’s forwards, is confident that Joseph’s work will pay off.
“He just needs to improve his shooting. That has been the weakness of his game since coming out of high school,” Murphy said. “Once he can show that he can consistently make that outside shot he’ll be very hard to guard.”
As important as his points are, it’s also Joseph’s leadership that will help determine how successful this year’s edition of the Orange will be. Chemistry was a huge ingredient for last year’s over-achieving squad, which, other than Johnson, did not have a superstar in its ranks. It did, however, have superstar leadership.
“I have to step into that role,” Joseph said. “Me, Scoop and Rick have to step into that role and become leaders. We watched Andy and Wes and learned what has to be done to be a great leader on a winning team. We need to follow in their footsteps and do exactly what they did. You have to do the right things on and off the court, get your troops together and make sure they’re doing the right things to stay eligible, not getting into trouble, getting your treatment, working hard at practice.
“We were all on the same page last year. There were no egos,” he added. “That was the great thing about last year’s team. Everyone was on the same page the whole year.”
Boeheim doesn’t hope Joseph steps up in the leadership department. He expects him to.
“Kris, Rick and Scoop have been here three and four years. They understand what needs to be done. They’re obviously very good players and have played very well and they have to take that next step forward and be the guys that everybody looks up to,” Boeheim said. “We expect the upperclassmen to step up and do what they can to lead this team and be productive.”
Unlike the demonstrative and emotional Rautins, Joseph is more in the mold of the lead-by-example leader. Joseph said he really can’t change his stripes but he pledges to be more vocal this season.
“I’m definitely going to do some more talking. I’ve already done that, but I’m not a vocal guy. I lead by example but everyone listens to me when I do talk because I’ve been here for awhile and they take what I say seriously.”
“He’s definitely ready to be a leader,” Boeheim acknowledged. “More vocal? I don’t know. I don’t think people’s personalities are going to change necessarily. I’ve never seen anybody change their personality yet.”
But that doesn’t mean Joseph can’t be effective as a leader.
“I think Kris has learned a lot playing with Paul and Wes. Competing with those guys the past two years I think he’s going to step up and take that leadership role on and off the court…we’re depending on him to step into that leadership role,” Coach Murphy said. “He’s not a vocal guy but he leads by example. He’s a very hard worker; he does everything we ask of him off and on the court.
“I think we’ll see him communicate more and be more vocal stepping into that role but ultimately he will lead by example,” Murphy continued. “There’s no question the guys look up to him. Players look at guys that are talented. Kris’s teammates definitely look up to him and they have supreme confidence in him.”
Teammate Jackson agreed.
“He gets guys going. He knows what to say to get that spark out of people.”
From under the radar to front and center on everyone’s Syracuse basketball radar screen. That’s Kris Joseph.
Story by Mark Frank, special contributor to The Juice Online. This story appeared in the 2010-11 Syracuse Basketball Yearbook. For a complete look at this year’s team, pick up a copy at the Carrier Dome for only $8.