In the game of basketball there is probably no relationship more crucial to the development of a point guard than that of the player and a coach who's walked in those shoes before.
Well that’s exactly the camaraderie freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph and assistant coach Gerry McNamara have formed since the Nashua, New Hampshire native officially signed with Syracuse back in August of 2013.
It’s a relationship that may be a little difficult to comprehend considering they share similarities off the court and as floor leaders, but not necessarily in style of play.
Their ties run deeper than the small towns from which they hail from. Joseph is in the same position now McNamara was in some 11 years ago just months before Syracuse would go on to win it’s first national championship: The star point guard looking to find his niche on a team that is expecting more out of him than just his four-star recruit moniker.
In 2002-03 freshmen Gerry McNamara and Carmelo Anthony were called upon to lead a young Orangemen team that had lost 35 points per game from the previous season in Preston Shumpert and DeShaun Williams. Just as Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough will play significant roles on this year’s Orange team that lost Tyler Ennis and Jarami Grant to the NBA and four year contributor and leader C.J. Fair.
Like most highly recruited freshman point guards criticism of various parts of a player’s game follow them at the beginning of their college careers. For Joseph scouts have questioned the range on his jump shot coming out of high school, something coach McNamara has been working with him on since he arrived on campus over the summer.
“Well that was the knock on him coming in, from what I understood his range was limited...what he did this summer was improve it and really extend it,” McNamara said.
Although it lost a big chunk of it’s scoring output from last season the Orange have multiple guys they can go to for scoring. Trevor Cooney is ready for a more expanded role offensively not just as a lethal three-point shooter, Chris McCullough’s versatile game should translate to the college level and Coach Boeheim has said Rakeem Christmas may be the most improved player in the ACC.
So where does Kaleb Joseph’s offensive game fit in to this year’s team? His scoring isn’t the main priority on the mind of coach McNamara.
“He’s certainly capable of scoring, but he’s also capable of making decisions, and that’s going to be the most important part of our offense, him being able to make good decisions,” McNamara said.
Like Gerry McNamara in 2003 Joseph’s team first mindset is what may very well define his game just like Tyler Ennis last season who averaged 5.5 assists per game for the Orange, but it won’t happen overnight.
“I think after the first few games it will be really easy to be able to tell what the coaches need from me and from there I’ll just try to do that,” Joseph said.
The nice thing about having Coach McNamara around is that he’s been through what Joseph is about to experience as a freshman point guard. McNamara knows what advice to give Joseph as the season grows near.
“Just to be confident,” McNamara said. “From a belief standpoint I think he understands he can really make an impact here...all the great point guards we’ve had here have been great at making what we call second-level decisions, and he’s got a great feel for that.”
In his first season in Orange McNamara averaged 13.3 and 4.4 assists per game so his talent level was obviously up to par for the Big East level, but there were other qualities he possessed that helped him develop so early on. He was a true floor leader and had a knack for getting guys the ball in the right spots most notable Carmelo.
Those aspects of his game will come along for Joseph as the season gets underway, but in the end it always comes back to skill level. “To make an impact you have to be pretty talented,” McNamara said. “When you have someone at the head of the snake someone that’s really talented, but understands the game and makes proper decisions, it’s a calming influence on the court.”
For Kaleb, even though he was ranked as the 14th best point guard in the country, even though he is already the big man on campus, even though it’d be hard to get a big head he still knows that listening to someone that’s done it before can do wonders for his confidence.
“I talk to him[McNamara] everyday about what to expect during the season...I’m just trying to listen to him and take his advice,” Joseph said.
The most recent line of superstar point guards at Syracuse really started in 2002-03 with Gerry McNamara and progressed quickly after he departed in 2006 with the likes of Flynn, Jardine, Triche, Carter-Williams, and Ennis. Joseph has the potential to be the next in line so to speak and his strong relationship with Coach McNamara will help him through the ups and downs in his first year in the ACC.
Head Coach Jim Boeheim knows that there’s really no telling what to expect out of a freshman once the season begins.
“We have an aggressive young point guard and thats good...that’s why I talk to the point guards more than anyone else,” Boeheim said. “We’ve had a lot of good experiences with freshman point guards...and we’ll see how this one is.”
If his work ethic and overall talent level are any early indication of future success for Joseph we may very well see him on a list of Syracuse greats in the future.