About three hours before the tip of Saturday's Louisville-Syracuse game, I got a small inkling of Kris Joseph's profile in 'Cuse Nation. While I watched him greet family members in the lobby of the Syracuse Crowne Plaza hotel, he was interrupted by a group of fans checking in.
"You're Kris Joseph," one of them said.
"Can I get a picture with you?" the other asked.
Being famous for playing on a basketball team that is consistently one of the top college programs in the United States -- in a city that bleeds orange -- is not surprising at all.
However despite my best efforts, my mind couldn't avoid wandering 400km north to Joseph's hometown of Montreal. With the Leafs there to play the Habs and both cities' hockey media in a near-erotic frenzy over the previous day's coaching change, I wondered if Joseph would be recognized in a hotel lobby there.
Asked after Syracuse's 58-49 win over the Cards on Senior Day -- his last game in front of 30,000-plus at the Carrier Dome -- whether he is another inspiration for the Canadian kids who want to and can play basketball at a high level, Joseph didn't mince words. "I think kids look up to me in Canada, and it just gives them hope," he said, knowing full well he's another piece in the explosion of Canuck basketball talent currently taking place.
"You got guys like [Kevin] Pangos at Gonzaga doing his thing, more guys in the NBA ... there's a lot of talent in Canada that's hidden, because obviously they don't get as much exposure in the U.S," he added. "Now kids are moving across [the border] to get that exposure."
Another Joseph in a Canadian bloodline of basketball talent (his cousins are San Antonio Spurs guard Cory Joseph and Devoe Joseph of Oregon, while his older brother Maurice played at Vermont), his ascension to being the Orange's leading scorer the past two seasons and becoming the first-ever Canadian to land All-Big East first team honours this year didn't come in a particularly high-profile way.
Over it's history, Syracuse's better nationally-ranked teams have usually (with the exception of two of the last three years) been led by surefire NBA lottery picks like Carmelo Anthony, Etan Thomas, Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly.
While most mocks have Joseph pegged as a late first-rounder this year, the small forward's success is also a byproduct of what may be one the most Jim Boeheim-esque squads in Syracuse history. By that I mean a team that plays excellent defence, executing the coach's 2-3 zone system flawlessly.
That of course won't transcend to the NBA game, but playing a team defensive system has to count for something. "[I'm] just putting in the work necessary for me to become a better player," Joseph said.
Syracuse, which finished the regular season a school-record 30-1 -- earning a double-bye for this weekend's Big East tournament in New York -- will assuredly earn a No. 1 seed in the March Madness bracket, and it's a total testament to team play.
While Joseph is one of the Orange's primary offensive players, another one -- Scoop Jardine -- had his second atrocious game against Louisville this season, being held scoreless with three turnovers. Joseph didn't really get going until the second half, but it allowed guard Brandon Triche to step up and pour in 18 points.
Throw in Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Fab Melo, and that's basically how it's gone all year.
Still, Joseph is a bit surprised by just how good 'Cuse has been. "I knew we were going to be good ... but 30-1 good, I didn't expect that," he said. "I know we have all the pieces of puzzle, as long as we play together, that's what's kept us going all season long."
And in the anything-can-happen-free-for-all that is March Madness, Joseph's main thought is to not believe the hype, pedaled by ESPN almost as liberally as Canadian sports media does the NHL trade deadline. "We're 30-1 but it's not over yet. You lose one game, you're done," he said. "Stay humble and know we can be beaten, that's what keeps us going."
As for thinking about the next level and the NBA, Joseph does admit he daydreams about it.
"One step at a time ... I don't count my chickens before they're hatched," he said, before a student from the senior yearbook chimed in with a yearbook-y question in kind of a cool moment that can only happen in college sports.
"Once the season is completely over, I know I am that much closer to my dream," Joseph explained. "I might find myself daydreaming now and then, but for now I'm daydreaming about winning a national championship."
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