Cory Joseph has worn a lot of uniforms this year.
There was his San Antonio Spurs uniform for the regular season. Then there was the Austin Toros uniform that came after he called Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to suggest going down to the D-League affiliate to get some more game experience.
Then came San Antonio’s uniform with the NBA Finals patch on it when the team played and ultimately lost to the Miami Heat in June.
Now there is the white and red Canada uniform he’ll wear when representing his country in the upcoming FIBA Americas.
“This year has definitely been a roller coaster,” Joseph said. “It’s been fun. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people, learn a lot of things from different angles. I’ve been a sponge, soaking it all up. Just trying to improve my game.”
Drafted with the 29th pick by the Spurs in 2011, Joseph has worked his way into the rotation with a lot of after-hours work, a commitment to defence and a willingness to recognize when he needed more in-game experience.
When he wasn’t getting the time needed to develop his skills, Joseph suggested a trip to the D-League where he would be able to play and iron out the kinks in his game. While many players look at a D-League assignment as a demotion, Joseph saw it as an opportunity to hone his craft and was grateful for it.
“I didn’t know it was going to get this much publicity, you know?” Joseph said. “Every reporter probably asked me that. Every single one asked me about the decision I made. At the time I didn’t know it would be this big.”
Joseph added he didn’t think the Spurs would forget about him.
“They watch, they want me to learn,” said the Pickering, Ont. “It was an investment. I was just working. I was working and when I got my opportunity, whenever it was, that year, the next year, I’d be able to capitalize and feel like I was ready.”
To go from the D-League affiliate to playing meaningful minutes in the NBA Finals is quite the trip. Luckily for the Spurs, Joseph is an unflappable 21-year-old.
Quick to point out that “everybody remembers the winner” when talking about the Finals appearance, Joseph said he can’t wait to experience the Finals again.
“Playing on the biggest stage in basketball, in the world, nobody could ask for more,” he said. “Obviously we were excited, happy, anxious, dialled in, focused, all of the emotions you could possibly think of, we were feeling. I mean, at the end, all of them. Mad, sad, all of it at once.”
Despite the strong finish to his sophomore season, Joseph knows there is plenty of room for improvement in his game and said he is honing in on his shooting and leadership skills this summer.
While Joseph has been involved with the Canadian basketball program since 2008, he couldn’t help but smile when talking about what he perceives to be a renewed interest in the sport north of the border.
“Kids realize they have different options now and they realize that it can actually happen,” Joseph said. “We’ve always had talented people, but I think Tristan (Thompson) and I being the first guys to get drafted in the first round together that opened some eyes.”
When Anthony Bennett made history as the first Canadian to be drafted No. 1 in June, Joseph was in front of the television.
“To see him go first, I was excited,” he said. “Knowing Anthony, knowing his family, he’s got a good family, I was excited for them. Knowing the pressure that goes with it, the pressure and responsibilities, he’s up for it. He’s ready. He’ll work hard and when the time comes, he’ll be ready to play.”
Head coach Jay Triano is hoping the same will be said about his team after they fly to Florida on Friday for four more days of practice before travelling to Puerto Rico for the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup next week.
After the team finishes in Puerto Rico, the real test will begin when they gets to Venezuela for the FIBA Americas from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11. The top four tournament teams qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain.