Less than two months ago, the men’s basketball team didn’t have a head coach.
The former man at the helm, Mike Lonergan, was dismissed after an independent legal investigation into verbal and emotional abuse allegations concluded his conduct was “inconsistent with the University’s values” on Sept. 17.
Ten days later, 31-year-old Maurice Joseph’s promotion went public. The former assistant became Lonergan’s replacement – thrust into an interim head coaching role for the 2016–2017 season.
Despite lingering questions surrounding the nationally publicized firing, Joseph said he and his team are ready to put a chaotic offseason behind them.
“I think there is really no time to dwell on emotions or what happened in the past,” Joseph said at the team’s media day Tuesday. “Some of these teams in our league that were picked ahead of us or below us really don’t care about the coaching change. When the ball goes up they are going to try to beat us, period.”
Joseph doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the team’s overall strategy as compared to last year but said he wants to play more up-tempo than they have in the past and to improve defensively. His main goal since taking the job, however, has been to bring “energy and enthusiasm” to the team on a daily basis.
Joseph played under Lonergan for two years at Vermont and spent five years on his coaching staff at GW, along with associate head coach Hajj Turner, who reportedly was also interviewed for the job in addition to third-year assistant coach Carmen Maciariello.
The Montreal native, affectionately referred to as “Mojo,” becomes the youngest coach to lead GW’s program in almost 30 years.
In a September release, Athletic Director Patrick Nero said Joseph’s “leadership ability and basketball acumen will bring focus and stability to the talented team we have this year.”
Players, who began practicing with their new coach last month, said Nero’s description has rung true so far: Joseph is the leader they needed this season.
“[Joseph] has been great,” graduate student forward Tyler Cavanaugh said. “Positive, lots of energy, bouncing around the floor keeping us in our drills – that has been great for all of us. And just continuing to move forward and focus on the details of the game, the nuances of the game and just diving into practice full speed ahead because we’ve just got to get ready and prepare for these teams.”
Before transferring to Vermont in 2007, Joseph played two seasons at Michigan State under hall of fame coach Tom Izzo – whom he said he’s been in touch with several times since landing the interim position.
Redshirt junior guard Jaren Sina said Joseph’s experience as a player and his relatively young age make him relatable, which has helped in guiding a fresh-faced roster.
“He played college basketball at a very high level,” Sina said. “He’s played recently, so he understands things from our perspective, and that makes it easier for us.”
Redshirt senior guard Matt Hart, who joined the program two-plus years ago as a walk-on, said Joseph is the person he’s talked to most since arriving in Foggy Bottom and admires the work ethic he elicits from players at every practice.
During the transition between coaches, it was veterans like Sina, Cavanaugh and Hart who stepped into larger leadership roles to help bring the group together during the summer’s confusion and uncertainty.
“The change occurred and the guys have been rock solid from the jump,” Joseph said, seated next to Hart and Cavanaugh Tuesday. “They never wavered in their work ethic. They never wavered in their attention to detail or in their focus. A lot of credit to these two guys have rallied the troops at a time of adversity.”
Relying on older players to set the tone and focusing on the team’s goals – like making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 – has smoothed Joseph’s transition, he said.
While team chemistry and locker room vibes are looking up, it remains to be seen if the Colonials can translate that into production on the court. Picked to finish eighth in the A-10 Preseason Poll last month, GW has a long road ahead if they want a shot at reaching the Big Dance.
“The major focus is to bring energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis which we always have done,” Joseph said. “Our goals haven’t changed. Our work ethic hasn’t changed. In that regard it has been a really easy transition.”