Having had to compete with DeMatha teammate Keith Bogans for the spotlight throughout high school, Joseph Forte was eager to carve his own niche as a freshman guard for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The first thing Forte did was change his first name from Joe to Joseph.
North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge "told me that whatever I was known by in college is probably what I'd be known by the rest of my life," Forte said recently. "Joseph sounded more mature to me at 38 or 40."
Forte said that when he arrived on campus and told people he played basketball, most thought he meant for the junior varsity. But now, after scoring 24 points in his collegiate debut--the highest total by any North Carolina freshman in his first game--winning the MVP award at the Maui Invitational and averaging a team-high 17.3 points a game for the No. 7 Tar Heels, he's the talk of the whole town.
And he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Now, everybody seems to know who I am," he said. "Everybody's coming up and saying: 'How ya doing, Joe?' " Forte said. "I definitely prefer it that way."
In addition to good shooting, it's required extreme confidence and fundamental soundness for the 6-foot-4, 185-pound chess fan to make such a smooth transition to one of the most successful Division I programs of all time.
It's not that he didn't show the potential. He averaged 22.1 points, 8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a senior at DeMatha, where he earned USA Today first-team all-America honors.
"Before our season even started, we were shooting around one day," North Carolina center Brendan Haywood said. "He's out there shooting J's, and I said: 'Can you keep the double team off of me?' Real confidently, he stepped back, hit a three and said: 'Yeah.' "
But Guthridge and the Tar Heels have helped to keep Forte humble. Freshmen are not allowed to speak to the media until they play their first game. Guthridge invariably will turn the discussion to his seniors when asked a question about a freshman.
Furthermore, because he's a freshman, Forte must carry the Tar Heels' infamous "green bag"--a trainer's bag full of tape, scissors, ice packs and knee braces--to and from the locker room on road trips for the entire season. He was picked for the honor from among fellow freshmen Will Johnson and Jonathan Holmes in a preseason vote by the older players.
Also during the preseason junior guard Max Owens said it would not be right for Forte to start ahead of him because, "I've deserved it.
"I know the plays; I know the system," Owens said. "When I was a freshman, I didn't get to start in front of Shammond Williams. It would not be fair to me as a player or a person. He has three more years; I only have one."
Forte's response: "It goes along with freshmen not getting that much attention. I don't think it's any knock on me."
Tar Heels assistant coach Phil Ford "always tells me to handle fame," Forte added. "He says: 'You're just a freshman. You don't want your teammates not to like you.' I'm not worried about that. I'm not that type of person."
Forte and Owens have been starting together because shinsplints have limited forward Kris Lang's playing time. But if Forte keeps playing the way he has been, he won't have to worry about Owens taking his place on the court when Lang is healthy again.
"Definitely, I didn't expect this," Forte said. "I'm just thankful that I've been able to play. Because if you don't get to play, you can't show what you can do."
CAPTION: Former DeMatha star Joseph Forte leads Tar Heels in scoring with 17.3 points per game.