Kaleb Joseph: The Road to Syracuse

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Kaleb Joseph finished his high school career as New England’s fourth ranked prospect in the class of 2014, yet there isn’t a player in the class who will walk into a higher profile role upon entering the college ranks.

In some respects, Joseph and many of his peers have already arrived at the next level after having attended a summer session and begun summer practices and workouts.

Watching him last week at the Scott Hazelton Basketball Camp, where he returned to play with his former Mass Rivals teammates, it was clear that even that small sample of college basketball has already made a big impact on his game.

The most notable difference is the development of Joseph’s jump-shot. While he was more consistent with his pull-up than three-pointer during his days at Cushing Academy, he was drilling threes with ease last week in Andover.

The progression isn’t really a total surprise. There was never anything mechanically wrong with his shot. In fact, his release has always been pretty clean, only typically short because of a lack of legs and confidence. Some increased lower body strength after a few weeks in a college weight room along with the added confidence that goes along with taking a few hundred jumpers a day seem to now be doing the trick though.

It’s a good thing too, as Joseph will be thrown right into the fire next year, when college basketball really begins.

It’s almost ironic to think back to this time last year when all Joseph’s naysayers talked about how he wouldn’t play at Syracuse, and yet now he is the only true point guard on the roster in his freshman season and consequently has a very good chance of being in the starting line-up on opening night.

What no one could have anticipated of course was the immediate stardom of last year’s freshman point guard, Tyler Ennis, who most expected to be at Syracuse for at least three years but ended up drafted 18th overall by the Phoenix Suns after only one season in college.

Ennis’ quick springboard to the NBA left both Syracuse and Joseph in an unexpected situation as he would no longer have the luxury of being brought along slowly, similar to the way Michael Carter-Williams was first developed with the Orange, but instead he’ll be thrown right into the fire and his ability to figure it out on the fly will go a long way towards determining what type of season Syracuse has.

So as we said – there isn’t another incoming freshman from New England who will play a more high profile role in all of college basketball next season.

If what we saw last week was any indication though, Joseph could prove to be a quick learner. There will be undoubted growing pains next season, but ultimately the experience could accelerate his overall development and allow him to realize his full potential quicker than anyone could have anticipated.

Those who watched Joseph during his high school career already know he has good size, length, and athleticism for a point guard. With his always deadly pull-up game and enhanced three-point range there isn’t many physical or basketball skills he doesn’t have at his disposal.

Instead, his biggest challenges will be more mental. Joseph’s always had a good natural instinct for the game, but there’s a difference between that and understanding the intricacies of it. You can bet he’s going to learn more about the game this year than he ever has before and he’ll need to take advantage of that while not being bogged down by it.

Physically, his body is going to endure more punishment than it ever has before and yet he’ll need to stay sharp through all the wear and tear. Most freshmen inevitably hit a wall at some point in the mid-season, if Joseph does it could cost Syracuse their season.

Most of all though, he’ll have to be steady with his emotions. That can be a challenge for any college freshman, never mind the kid who is starting at the point in front of fifteen thousand fans at the Carrier Dome on a game that is being televised live on ESPN. While that type of opportunity is more than anyone else from New England will experience next year, it’s also a burden to deal with when things don’t go exactly his way.

Those are just some of the lessons that Joseph will have to learn next year. There’s no denying that some of them are going to be hard lessons, but at the end of the day his immediate opportunity is more than anyone could have anticipated and while it certainly won’t be easy, if he continues to embrace the process as he obviously did this summer, it could be the best thing to possibly happen to him in the long-run.