Montreal's Joseph brothers to battle on grand stage
Arpon Basu, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 18, 2010 8:25AM EDT
MONTREAL - There were no basketball nets in their Montreal neighbourhood so Maurice and Kris Joseph shot at trash cans in the local schoolyard.
When the city finally built a court at a nearby park, Maurice and younger brother Kris could be found there until the wee hours, engaged in epic one-on-one battles.
Now, for the first time in years, the two brothers are about to face off again. But this time they will meet on the biggest stage in U.S. college basketball.
"From playing in the trash cans at Bedford Elementary to playing in Kent Park at midnight, and now here we are on the national stage," Kris said. "We've come a long way."
Maurice, 24, is a senior co-captain and second-leading scorer at the University of Vermont, which won the America East conference championship Saturday to land a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Kris, 21, is a sophomore standout for Syracuse University, voted the Big East Conference sixth-man of the year.
The two will face each other in the first round of the tournament's West Region in Buffalo, N.Y., this Friday, with Syracuse the heavy favourite as the region's No. 1 seed and Vermont ranked 16th.
Both of them watched Sunday's tournament selection show with their respective teams, but when the matchup flashed on the television screen it only took a few seconds for the brothers to share the moment together.
"When I saw Syracuse on the screen I didn't think Vermont would be the next team because we were supposed to be a 14 or 15 seed, but I wanted to see who my brother would be playing," Maurice said. "When our logo came up, I couldn't believe it. The next thing I know my phone is ringing and it's my brother. We just screamed on the phone for two minutes. We couldn't even talk."
Two paths to stardom
Maurice and Kris have each taken their own paths to reach this sibling showdown.
Maurice stayed in Montreal after graduating from Mont-Royal High School and played at Champlain College St-Lambert in the CEGEP system, Quebec's equivalent of junior college.
At Champlain, Maurice was named the 2004-05 national player of the year in the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association and headed off to Michigan State on a full scholarship. But after two years of limited minutes there he decided to transfer to Vermont, where he will graduate this spring with a master's in psychology.
It didn't look like Kris would follow in his older brother's footsteps after he was cut from his club team when he was 14. But he persevered and worked on his game, eventually becoming a Canada Games silver medallist for Quebec in 2005 and finishing high school at Archbishop Carroll in Washington D.C.
Playing in one of the top leagues on the East Coast, he blossomed into a national top-20 small forward prospect and earned a scholarship at Syracuse.
Kris is a key cog in the Orangemen's rotation, one that also includes fellow Canadian Andy Rautins, the son of men's national team coach Leo. Kris is third on the team in minutes (27.1 per game), points (11.3) and rebounds (5.4) despite coming off the bench for all but one game this season.
Due to a quadriceps injury to starting centre Arinze Onuaku, Kris will be in the starting lineup Friday against his big brother, who jokes there might be a surprise waiting for him when they meet at centre court.
"I was thinking of pulling some big brother stuff and giving him a wedgie or something, right on national TV," Maurice said with a laugh. "But I'll probably just give him a hug, and as soon as that ball is tipped, he's a Syracuse Orangeman and I'm a Vermont Catamount."
There will be 10 family members who will make the trip from Montreal to Buffalo for Friday's game, and both brothers say they are each expected to wear a piece of clothing from either school.
While it's a thrilling moment for them, Maurice hopes it is equally momentous in Montreal to have two native sons in the starting lineup of an NCAA tournament game.
"It's going to be a good game, good for Montreal," he said. "I hope the whole city tunes in and watches.''
Considering a 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, chances are good that Friday's game will be Maurice's last as a collegiate basketball player. And he couldn't have scripted a better scenario for his big finale.
"If I do go out on Friday," he said, "who better to go out against than my brother who I love?"