Montreal manufactures hockey players, and business is good. Except if you’re Kris Joseph.
So, when the late second-round Celtics pick in this summer’s NBA draft arrived stateside as a 17-year-old high school junior in search of a basketball education, the jet lag lasted a little longer than usual.
‘He was pretty lazy,’ admitted Clinton Perrow, who coached Joseph for two prep seasons at Archbishop Carroll (Washington, D.C.) from 2006-08. ‘A lot of things came to him without a whole lot of effort. Early on, he didn’t see the need for conditioning because the game came so easily for him.’
Still, no coach questioned Joseph’s potential. Not as an inexperienced junior. Not as ESPNU’s No. 50 overall senior recruit in the Class of 2008. Not during a collegiate career that culminated in a Wooden Award finalist bid in his fourth and final season at Syracuse. And not when he fell all the way to the Celtics at No. 52 in the draft.
‘When you see him, you know he’s a player,’ said Curtis Malone, president of the D.C. Assault AAU program that recruited Joseph in 2006. ‘And we didn’t have to see him much to say, ‘We’ve gotta get this guy on our team.’ There were so many moments that made you say, ‘Wow, this kid is really, really good.’ He’s a talent.’
Six years later, Joseph joins undrafted rookies Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith in a three-man battle for the final two spots on the C’s 15-man roster. And he still may not have realized that full potential.
“He hadn’t played lot of high-level ball until his last two years of high school, so once he puts everything together this kid has so much talent that the upside is huge for him,” said Syracuse assistant Adrian Autry, who served as Joseph’s positional coach this past season and faced him as a high school assistant at Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.). “He played basketball, but not at that level and not every day. Hockey is the sport in Canada, so once he got into that type of environment where he was playing at a high level and playing every day, he was very impressive.”
Joseph’s skill set, for the most part, hasn’t changed all that much since he made the 600-mile mission from Montreal to Washington, D.C. How seriously he approaches his craft, however, has evolved dramatically.
“After summer league, I had to take a little time off, just for my body,” said Joseph during an appearance last week at the Boston Celtics  Shamrock Foundation’s Summer Soiree. “Two summer leagues was kind of grueling, but it was a great experience overall. I’ve just been working out, trying to maintain my body. I’ve been making sure I’ve been eating the right things and doing things the right way, just so I can work out. This is a job, so you’ve got to make sure you do things the right way, especially with your body.”
In a way, when Celtics training camp commences at September’s end, Joseph’s story is only just beginning.
Listen, nobody’s really calling Joseph lazy, including Perrow, who understands no kid uproots his life at age 17 seamlessly, especially one who chose to immerse himself in an American basketball culture that required his full commitment. Joseph’s adjustment took time. That’s all.
‘The conditioning — running stairs, footwork, jumping rope — came his senior year when he started realizing that could really help him in the long run,” said Perrow. “When that caught on, he was pretty much a fanatic about it. …
‘When he came back for his senior year is when we really noticed his development and his body. We were working with weights, and he really started to fill out. He was doing more what we like to call man-like plays, being a man among some high school kids.”
“He will get in the gym to work,” added Malone. “Of course, he was up at Syracuse for four years. When he came home, he’d get in the gym and work. A few offseasons, he had injuries that didn’t allow him to do much, but he’s a workaholic. He puts in a lot of work. Every time I talk to him, he says, ‘I’ve been in the gym. I’ve been in the gym.’ With us in D.C., he always worked hard. I assume he’s continued to do that.”
“He’s always around,” finished Autry. “He always wants to get better. It may not be him just on the court. He’s very into his body. He’ll be in the weight room. He spends a lot of time in the gym, too. He does a little of both. He’s always doing something toward getting better. He had that balance, and that’s a good thing. He’s mature.”
That maturity also manifests itself outside of the gym, where Joseph is unanimously respected by his former coaches as a “personable, down-to-earth and charismatic” 23-year-old young man, even if he described himself as “silly.” Likewise, each of Joseph’s mentors praised his basketball acumen.
As Autry said, “When we handed out scouting reports, one of the first things he looked at was personnel and who he was playing. Now, being at the pro level, that’s the culture. He’ll be fine.”
KRIS KROSS WILL MAKE YOU JUMP
That’s not to say Joseph is a slouch on the floor. They don’t just hand out Honorable Mention All-American honors.
‘You’re talking about a guy at the high school level who played all five positions,” said Perrow. “Our point guard went down with an ankle sprain, and he ran the one. Just to be able to do that was pretty incredible at his size.’
Versatility. Handle. Court vision. These are attributes that surface time and again when discussing Joseph.
“He brought so much to the table,” said Malone. “He was 6-foot-5, 6-6 at the time, but he had guard skills. He could handle the ball, shoot the ball and was a really good passer. He was a more talented player than anybody in the D.C. area at the time. He could do anything. He was like a stat filler. …
“Now, of course, he’s much bigger and stronger, but he’s the same player he was. He’s a big-time talent. Now, getting drafted in the NBA, he’s able to showcase the things he’s capable of doing. He’s so good at a lot of things. Not just one. He’s so versatile. He brought a lot to our team. He’s an all-around player. He played the point, the two — he did everything. He’s a great all-around player. You don’t find too many of those too often.”
Added Autry, “From a skill set standpoint, he can do everything. He can handle, he can shoot, he can slash, he can rebound, he can defend. He can do all those things at a high level. Some people may be able to do one thing better than others, but he’s just a player. He can just play. He does all that stuff at a very, very high level. I’m excited about his future. He’s going to continue to get better each year he has the opportunity to play.”
This is Part One of a two-part series. For Monday’s Part Two, detailing Kris Joseph’s impact on the court, what aspects of his game he needs to improve and whose role he might fill on the 2012-13 Celtics, click here .