Syracuse swingman Kris Joseph retools his game and himself
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- When Kris Joseph left his apartment for his daily predawn workouts last summer, he never forgot to grab a gallon jug of water on his way out the door.
The jug followed Joseph throughout the day as he traced a path from weight room to classroom to dining room to the gym, lightening as he sipped from it. It became a running joke among his teammates on the Syracuse basketball team. It also grew to symbolize Joseph's offseason makeover: one part self-discipline, another part self-cleansing.
"I knew I needed to make changes," he said.
For Joseph, a sophomore forward out of Archbishop Carroll in the District, the most difficult summer of his life came after his most disappointing winter, when he saw his playing time and influence as a freshman on Syracuse's NCAA tournament team diminish as last season progressed. It was in the locker room following the Orange's loss to Oklahoma in the round of 16 that Joseph vowed to return better prepared for next year.
So far he has. After a summer of grueling workouts, strict dieting and attitude readjustments, Joseph lost 22 pounds and has emerged as Syracuse's most valuable contributor off the bench -- a slimmed, 6-foot-7 swingman who has turned heads with his versatility as much as his dunking ability.
One particular slam -- a demonstrative one-handed flush late in No. 5 Syracuse's 80-73 win over Seton Hall on Dec. 29 -- exemplified Joseph's rise this season. It also demonstrated his arrival as a factor in Syracuse's 19-1 start this season. The Orange hosts Georgetown on Monday night.
"I knew this year would be a big year for me," said Joseph, who has raised his scoring average to 10.0 from 3.4 points per game last season. "At the end of last year I made a commitment to myself that I was going to come here in the summer and just work."
He left Carroll as the ninth-rated small forward in the nation, according to Scout.com, joining a long list of Beltway area basketball stars to head north to Syracuse after spurning an offer from Georgetown to follow his idol, Carmelo Anthony, to upstate New York. But after averaging 18.9 minutes per game the first 18 games of last season, Joseph's playing time diminished. He averaged fewer than six minutes over the final 20 games.
"My season didn't end the way I wanted it to end," Joseph said. "From that day we lost to Oklahoma I knew something had to change. I couldn't stay the way I was."
Syracuse assistant coach Rob Murphy said Joseph was out of shape and immature; his weight had ballooned to 230 and he had lost the quickness that shaped his high school career.
"I think he was a pudgy freshman," said Syracuse basketball strength and conditioning director Ryan Cabiles, who worked with Joseph. "He just needed to be educated, and I think we achieved that. He's taken that in himself."
Joseph also took a cue from teammate Jonny Flynn, whose remarkable fitness was enhanced by workouts before and after practice. On the night of the NBA draft in June, after Flynn had been selected with the No. 6 overall pick by Minnesota, Joseph sent Flynn a text message thanking him for being an inspiration in the gym.
Two days later, Joseph was on a bus from his home town of Montreal, headed for Syracuse. His alarm clock would be set for 5:15 a.m. when he arrived.
He lifted weights at 6 every morning, sometimes so strenuously he couldn't sit straight the next day. He'd do a full basketball workout twice a day, and then scrimmage in the evening.
A few times a week he also ventured into the swimming pool, where he would join center Arinze Onuaku (Episcopal High) for a water workout. Joseph, who didn't know how to swim, nearly drowned the first time he drifted into the deep end.
The next day, he wore a life preserver around his waist.
"After I got that all coordinated, I was pretty good," Joseph joked.
By the beginning of the fall, Joseph had lost 22 pounds and redefined his game. His quickness off the dribble improved, and he said he has gained nearly four inches on his vertical. He has also gained playing time, averaging 10 points in more than 25 minutes per game.
"He's been tremendous for us, coming in and has just played extremely well," Coach Jim Boeheim said in a teleconference. "Sometimes it takes a year to get to where you need to be."
Last year, when Syracuse traveled to the District to play Georgetown in early January, Joseph said he returned to walk the halls at Carroll and greet his former coaches and teachers.
When they watch Joseph play against the Hoyas on Monday night, they might not recognize him.
"I didn't know what kind of work I had to put in," Joseph said. "And going through a whole year, you realize."