The 2013 FIBA Americas provided such promise for a young inexperienced Canadian squad to do the unthinkable but that quickly took a turn for the worst. Despite Canada being disqualified at the tournament in Caracas Venezuela a star emerged.
Twenty-two year old Cory Joseph rose to the challenge and matured before our very eyes. His on court demeanor is exemplified with his proven toughness and willingness to win as he left it all out on the court. When Canada’s hopes were hanging by the valiance it was do or die as they squared off against Argentina. Who was there to aid a team at its wits end? None other than the second year San Antonio Spurs guard, who exceeded all expectations finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and two assists despite the heart breaking defeat. He was resilient as he fought and clawed his way through the heart of Argentina’s defense. The 6’3” point guard never gave up on a play; it might explain why he led Team Canada on the scoresheet with 16.1 points (56% FG), 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists in seven games.
Nothing was ever handed to the rising Canadian star. He worked for everything, which is why there was never a dull moment inside the Joseph residence in Pickering, ON, the Toronto suburb where he grew-up. “It was serious competition for everything. Who dominated? I would say me. My mom, dad, brother would say otherwise.” Joseph grew up in an environment where playing the game of basketball was all he knew. Being well versed in the game became sort of like family tradition. “My dad played, my mom played and from a young age I played for the Scarborough Blues then I played for Pickering High and grew into the game of basketball.”
This home grown talent became an instant sensation at Pickering High School, leading the team to two Ontario championships and making himself a household name within his community. But for Cory’s final two years of high school he decided to make one of the biggest decisions of his life as he packed his bags for Vegas to play at one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, Findlay Prep.
“It was the transition that I made to gain more exposure” he said. I went for a visit to the school to figure out the program.” At the beginning he thought, “It was kind of risky. A young kid going out there with no friends and family far away, may not do well.” But the sceptic of it all inevitably made Cory stronger. He stopped listening to the naysayers and fixated himself on perfecting his craft, playing with a chip on his shoulders to prove any doubters wrong.
It was a risk that paid dividends as he excelled and propelled his game to the next level. In his first year at Findlay Prep, Cory joined forces with Brampton native Tristan Thompson where they instantly became brothers on their way to the 2010 National High School Invitational Championship. There was no sense of homesickness for this youngster, as he felt right at home with his new teammates. “My other teammates made me feel welcome,” he said “We became a family on and off the court.”
Joseph was a highly touted guard in his final year with Findlay. He garnered plenty of attention from college scouts. The success he had as a McDonald’s All-American, made him a fan favourite after he won the 3-point contest. His stock then rose as he was ranked #7th by rivals.com in their 2010 recruiting class. Joseph credits Findlay Prep for preparing him for what was ahead.
“I feel like it went well,” he said “they prepare you for college. Everything you do and see prepares you for the next level. It was great, high intensity basketball. In the classroom it was great for me.“ From high school came the transition to college where he and Thompson decided to take their talents to the University of Texas. It was a comforting feeling for Cory to come to the arena and have his name heard on the PA system. In 36 games as a starter Cory averaged 10.4 points per game but prided himself on improving his defense.
Joseph took a huge leap of faith in opting to enter the 2011 NBA Draft. And with the 29th pick the San Antonio Spurs saw what we Canadians had seen in a point guard with so much promise. “The transition from College to the NBA was a little slow for me. I had to get used to the game especially as a point guard and the system that we run. But by the time I got drafted to now I feel like I made huge improvements. I feel like I can keep on playing and playing hard.”
As soon as Joseph came to the Spurs, coach Gregg Popovich suggested he be sent down to the NBA Development League to gain experience. Dawning the Austin Toros jersey was not something he thought twice about.
Just this past year Cory was called to be a backup to Tony Parker but unfortunately wasn’t getting the playing time one might like. He professed to coach Popovich he wanted to gain experience back in the D-League. That drove him to excelling in the 2013 NBA Finals – a moment all Canadians should be proud of.
“I just felt like at the time I talked to coach Pop I wasn’t getting an opportunity to play at that moment,” said Joseph. I said I rather be playing 5-on-5 as a point guard. It is better. Drills only do so much. I went down there.”
The NBA Finals made Cory Joseph into a true defensive minded floor general whose long range shooting molded him into a professional in crucial game situations.
“It was great and all the emotions you can think of were in the finals, happy and sad,” said Joseph. “Overall great experience I don’t regret anything. Ball didn’t fall our way. For me I was able to capitalize.“
Not only did he capitalize on his success from this previous 2012-13 NBA season but he also became a prominent figure within Canada’s basketball community. At a press conference held this past June, Steve Nash alluded to this being the “Golden” age of Canadian basketball. The question was posed to the young Spurs guard.
“I think it means to me that we have an incredible opportunity here with Canada basketball and we can’t take it lightly. We have very very very talented players. Everyone is doing well individually. As we come together as a team we can do great things and win.”
The young core gave it their all, facing some fierce competition. As much as the Americas tournament was a learning experience for the team it was also an eye opening experience for the guys getting themselves acclimated to the international style of play.
“It’s going to be fun said Joseph. We are a young team. We have lots of energy and we play hard. As long as we play hard and compete we will be fine.”
Cory became one of the lone bright spots for Canada, showcasing how much of an asset he is to the squad. From diving on the floor for loose balls to a developing repertoire to his game, the long range jumper.
Head coach Jay Triano’s motto coming to training camp has been “Strive to be great.” Cory has bought into the motto but stresses they are far from reaching it. “There are a lot of things we have to do to be considered great as a team, he said. If we get to a point where people are calling us great we can still improve.”
Look for this coachable point guard to build on his successes this past summer. He has some secrets to his arsenal that are just waiting to be revealed. Sky’s the limit for a man who’s not only embarking on a long journey in the NBA but also as gloried figure in Canadian basketball.