Vermont Has MoJo
Maurice Joseph looks to lead Vermont into the postseason.
by Ray Bala
“He was elected team captain before he even played a game here. I’ve never had a guy who where we would come back at three in the morning from a road trip and would be in the locker room waiting for us. I think that’s why he was chosen captain. To stay up all night waiting to greet us, he’s a special young man.”
Vermont shooting guard Maurice Joseph takes his roll of team captain for this year’s Catamount squad very seriously. The 23-year-old is in his senior campaign and he wants to make sure everybody has one thing in mind until the end of the season: win the next game.
With the Catamounts having all the pieces in place to make a serious run at the America East crown despite losing four time all conference selection Mike Trimboli to graduation, Joseph is making every effort to make sure that in his last college season he goes out with a bang. But after transferring in from Michigan State after his sophomore season in ‘07-08 season, his situation looked more like an impending bust.
Coming out of Montreal’s legendary basketball program at Champlain-St Lambert in Quebec, Canada, Joseph was a very highly recruited player. With many big time college programs looking to sign him primarily for his unlimited shooting ability, he eventually signed with the Spartans where in his two years in Lansing he helped the team to two NCAA Tournament berths as the dead eye shooter off the bench. But despite averaging 5.9 points in 16 minutes a game as a sophomore, Joseph was looking for a change of scenery, to be closer to home and to play a bigger role to a team’s success. After feeling out the available opportunities, he settled on Vermont which was a relief for head coach Mike Lonergan.
“I think he wanted to play a bigger role [on a team],” says Coach Lonergan. “He had a lot of options and we tried to stress that we were close to [his] home and we had a chance to make the NCAAs. I didn’t promise him anything but I told him that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an impact player.”
A player of MoJo’s caliber is always big news when he transfers into a new league. With that being said, the expectations were very high for him to perform immediately when he finally began to play as a Catamount. But when he transferred in, he had shoulder issues that required surgery and that kept him out of action for the entire off year and hindered his performance early his junior season.
“We didn’t know at the time but he had shoulder issues and when he came here [doctors] found something that was more serious than they initially though,” remembers Lonergan. “He didn’t practice with us at all and that really hurt him because that transfer year he would’ve been getting acclimated to the system. He really didn’t do anything until about April or May.”
Aside from recovering from the surgery, MoJo needed to work on almost everything but his shooting to fit into Coach Lonergan’s system and early on it may have been a tough go for him. In spite of it all, Joseph would go on to average 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds playing all 33 of the Cats’ games in his junior year. He began as a starter but was moved to the bench through the season and despite playing with two America East First Team selections (in reigning conference player of the year Marqus Blakely and since graduate Mike Trimboli) as well as an All Rookie First Teamer (in Garvey Young), his seemingly small numbers stirred the talk of him being overrated and a bust at the season’s end. After that tough year, Joseph resolved to use those things and put in work to get better.
“There was talk of me being overrated, not coming through on his potential, not living up to the hype and as a competitor it bothers you,” says Joseph. “You take that stuff to your offseason workouts 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.”
And now it’s next season. Having been the team captain for two years now, he’s looking to get his team into the post season and he’s leading by example. As a full time starter 21 games into the season, Joseph has averaged 14.5 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 37.6 percent from the three and 82.4 percent from the line. He’s currently top 10 in the America East in scoring (9th), free throw percentage (2nd), 3PT percentage (6th) and 3PT made per game (6th). And the work is never done for the still improving MoJo who has added an assortment of off the dribble moves to his now even deadlier jumper as well as a renewed commitment to defense.
“We had butt heads early on because I really held him accountable on the defensive end of the floor and I’m glad I did that because now he has become a very good all round player,” dotes Lonergan. “He’s really elevated his game and I’ve told him ‘this is it, your senior season.’ This is your time to show that all those people that you were that player coming out of high school that could have gone to Michigan State or UNC.”
Now the gamble the Vermont staff took on Joseph is paying off and the promise is now being fulfilled.
With a handful of games left in his final regular season, Joseph is looking to steer the Catamount’s ship to the top of the conference and a possible invite to the Big Dance in March and is placing the responsibility squarely on his now recuperated shoulders.
“Success and failure has a lot to do with the leadership on a team and that goes for on and off the court,” states Joseph. “This season is our priority and this being my last season I’d hate to have wasted it. I take [being captain] very seriously and we’re going to take it one game at a time and to continue to be consistent.”
With a determined Joseph at the helm, it may be as easy for the Cats as playing follow the leader.
Ray Bala is a freelance sports writer from Toronto. Catch Ray covering all things Canadian basketball at Raptors HQ in The Can Ball Report.