MoJo is kicking his game into high gear in time for his senior year and the post season. (courtesy of the University of Vermont)
The Can Ball Report sat down with one of Montreal's basketball exports, current Vermont Catamount Maurice Joseph. We get his take on this transitions, he new found game, being the captain of a potential NCAA team and what he thinks of the future of Canadian basketball.
For those of you who know who he is, Maurice Joseph needs no introduction. For those of you who don't, you need to get on the wagon now. After having a standout prep career at Champlain-St Lambert in Quebec, he accepted a scholarship to Michigan State where he helped the Spartans to two NCAA appearances including a run to the Final Four in his freshman year. He transfered to Vermont after his sophmore campaign and after sitting out the required year, he played his junior season in 2008-09. Though not the instant impact he may have been expected to be last year, this season he is turning it out like he was expected to in the previous year to the tune of 14.3 pts, 2.7 rbs and an ast while shootig 37.1% from the three and 82.4 from the line through Jan 29. Let the Can Ball Report give you a look at MoJo ...
Can Ball Report: First off, congratulations on the great senior season so far. Let me start off by asking how it has been so far in Burlington, VT?
Maurice Joseph: Vermont’s been surprisingly positive in a lot of different ways. I wasn’t sure really what to expect in terms of the community and basketball but everything turned out to be really positive. Everyone one’s here’s been great, basketball’s been great, coaches and teammates have been fantastic so I’m happy with the decision I’ve made.
CB: So when you were making your decision to transfer what made Vermont appealing?
MJ: The fact that it was an hour and half away from home. That was big for me because I wanted to be close to my family and I wanted to go somewhere where I can be a vital part of the program’s success, have a chance to be a big part of what the program wants to do, not necessarily have the team revolve around me as much but be a big focal point of the team’s success. So far this season, I’ve done a good job being aggressive so far so we’ve had some success.
CB: Now you’ve played at the Division 1 level for a few years now first in the Big Ten at Michigan State. Coming from a tradition rich program at Champlain-St Lambert was there a transition period for you when you arrived from Montreal at Lansing?
MJ: Definitely. Moving to the Big Ten I think it’s a different brand of basketball. It’s a very physical conference, a very athletic conference. There are a lot of low scoring games, a lot of grind it out games and you don’t really have that kind of game coming out of Montreal. I have to say the biggest thing was the physicality and speed of the game and the overall talent level was a big difference from my days in Montreal.
CB: And how about from the Big Ten to America East Conference?
MJ: To be honest, the guards America East are as talented as any guards I’ve seen out of the Big Ten. The biggest difference is the in the frontcourt. The seven footers in the big ten can step out and shot whereas in our conferene the big men are more basic back to the basket type guys. In the Big Ten the big guys are a lot more athletic but in terms of guard play, it’s about the same I find.
CB: Now when you got to Burlington, what did you feel you needed to work on when arriving with regards to your game at the time?
MJ: I needed to work on the tangible things. I needed to defend better, I needed to rebound better, and I needed to shot the ball with a lot more confidence. I always had confidence in my shooting ability but I need to take it to another level and separate myself from other players because that’s what I've always done really well.
CB: Do you feel that your shooting ability had opened up a lot more for you this season on the court?
MJ: Absolutely. Guys are playing me a lot tighter which is opening up drives for me a lot this season. I’ve been to the line a lot more this year than in my previous three. Having my shooting ability open up things for me has allowed to get to the free throw line where I can score more points that way and my off the dribble game has improved because of that.
CB: Do you feel that other parts of game are not given much credit because you’re a great shooter?
MJ: I think it’s a mix. I think it’s me not taking full advantage of my game. Sometimes I’ll look for my jump shot way too much when the drive is available to me. I’m going from a more stagnant game and using the fact that I can shoot to getting to the rim more, getting to the free throw line.
CB: Was getting better in the other aspects that you might not do as well as you shot tough early in your stay at Vermont?
MJ: Kind of. Losing 3000 points from last season’s team, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make up for that scoring just by shooting the ball from the perimeter. So I worked in the off season my ball handling, I worked on getting to the basket. My coaches helped in the pre season also trying to diversify my game a bit to help make up for the loss.
CB: I noticed that on the team site that Coach Lonergan has said that he looks to see improvement from you on the rebounding and defensive ends this season with the player losses from last season. Have you taken that as a personal challenge this season to improve in those areas?
MJ: I took it as a personal challenge. (Coach) challenging my defense and rebounding, I put on myself to make an extra effort to focus on those things before games. Every game, I’m making an effort to stay focused on the things that don’t natural to me. Shooting has always come natural to me, the things that haven’t been a part of my basketball make up is what I’m really focusing on from game to game.
CB: Last season was not exactly as good as you may have wanted it to go and there were some comments made in the media regarding your perceived poor performance over the season. Did these comments fuel you improve for this season? NOTE: Joseph had shoulder surgery before the season of his transfer year and did not practice with the team until the spring.
MJ: Absolutely. I try not to read newspapers, blogs, whatever but you hear about it through word of mouth. There was talk of me being overrated, not coming through on his potential, not living up to the hype and as a competitor that bothers you. You take that to off season work outs and to the next season and you try to prove to yourself that you are capable of the things you can do and to prove to others that they were wrong. It challenged me to have a good senior season and stick to the people that didn’t necessarily think I’d be good.
CB: What do you think is the biggest challenge for you as the season goes on?
MJ: To continually be consistent. We have the right pieces of the puzzle right now and guys have bought into what Coach Lonergan what to do in his system. Guys have bought into their roles so I think that if I can keep everyone on the same page from a leadership aspect and help them perfect their roles for our team that will be big for us.
CB: How about what the biggest challenge for team?
MJ: To give a continued consistent effort. Continue to give the effort everyday and I mean in practice and in games it will take care of itself.
CB: Now you were nominated as the team captain this season for the second year. As one of the senior players on the team, how do you take your role as team captain?
MJ: I’ve taken that role very serious. I think teams are judged by how they act on the court in different situations. Essentially captains are extensions of the coaching staff. Coaches can’t play, the captain is on the court so I’m keeping guys calm, I’m getting guys in their proper places. Success and failure has a lot to do with the leadership on team, and that goes for on and off the court and I take that role very seriously.
CB: As the captain, do you think you’ve been more vocal this year with this being your last season? Have you done that more this year?
MJ: Absolutely. As a captain, or a leader in general, you can’t be afraid to speak up. You have to say what’s on your mind. I’ve definitely spoken up in different situations, be on or off the court and try to keep guys in line because this season’s our priority and this being my last season I’d hate to have wasted it because guys weren’t together, had different agendas or whatever.
CB: What do you think of the future of Canadian basketball right now?
MJ: I think that more Canadians playing D1 basketball shows the direction that Canadian basketball (is going towards) in terms of talent and exposure. It just shows that basketball in Canada has made strides over the years. People still tend to dog Canadians in terms of basketball because it’s a hockey country. This kinda puts those stigmas to rest.
CB: Great. Thanks for your time MoJo and continued success through this season.