For the past six months, men’s basketball was led by a first-year interim head coach that is three years closer in age to his incoming freshmen than he is to the average age of his counterparts in the Atlantic 10.
Some may have anticipated an outside hire as a permanent replacement – someone with more experience and deeper connections.
Instead, the University reaffirmed its belief in Maurice Joseph and his vision last Monday – officially promoting him to the full-time role and signing him to a five-year contract through the 2021-2022 season.
At just 31 years old, the Montreal native is now the youngest person to helm the program of any Top 10 RPI conference school.
“I still listen to some of the same music they listen to, I watch some of the shows that they watch,” Joseph said. “ I still feel like a player at times, when I get that excitement, those butterflies.”
His youth has allowed him to develop a bond with his players that might not otherwise be as close.
Junior guard Yuta Watanabe, who has now played under Joseph for three seasons, said that he has always had a tight relationship with his coach.
“We are very close,” Watanabe said. “We often work out together. Even when he became head coach he is still very close to us and it is very easy to talk to him when I need something.”
But Joseph’s first season was not always a smooth ride. Although GW finished with its fourth consecutive 20-win season, the team lost three games in a row on three different occasions and hovered around .500 for much of conference play.
The Colonials failed to qualify for the Big Dance or the NIT after ending their A-10 tournament run with a third loss to Richmond in just over two months.
Players also had to deal with the adversity handed to them after then-head coach Mike Lonergan was relieved of his duties less than two months before opening their 2016-2017 campaign. Lonergan was dismissed as head coach after players reported verbal and emotional abuse.
Joseph, who had only ever been an assistant coach or assistant director of operations under Lonergan, said this season was a learning process for him too.
“From the day-to-day grind of practice and film, I just learned how to manage a program and that was the biggest thing,” Joseph said. “From A to Z, just making decisions on what time the bus is leaving or what play we run down the stretch.”
Now that Joseph knows he will be coaching at GW for the next five years, he and his staff – a group that will stay intact this offseason – will work on developing the Colonials into a perennial contender, he said.
The first item on his docket for the upcoming months is recruiting. GW has five open scholarships to offer next year’s team, two of which are already taken by high school commits.
Joseph said he recognizes the program’s success in attracting international talent, including names like Watanabe and Argentinian-born Patricio Garino, who graduated last year. He said he wants to continue to take advantage of that and would also like to better utilize local DMV talent.
After returning from the Final Four in Phoenix, Joseph said he hopes that he can use the next few weeks to identify potential players that would fit into his team’s culture. That may include a graduate transfer who, like Patrick Steeves this past year, could possibly lead the Colonials’ young roster.
“There is such a large number of graduate transfers and sit-out transfers so I think schools would be foolish not to explore the market,” Joseph said. “We are looking to bring in people who can come in and help us immediately, but we are going to make sure we put together the right pieces.”
By the end of his contract, Joseph has lofty goals for the team. He said he wants the Colonials to be compared with the top teams in the nation, not just the top teams in the A-10.
“I think that we have the potential to be within the elite teams in the country,” Joseph said. “We have proven that, we have been top-25 before within the last few years, we just have to make sure we have the things in place in terms of personnel, in terms of system and in terms of whatever to make sure that we stay there.”
First, GW must figure out a way to improve on this season’s 20-15 record if they are looking to make any noise in future postseason tournaments – which won’t be easy.
The Colonials are losing Tyler Cavanaugh, the program’s 25th-highest all-time scorer and their undisputed leader over the past two years.
And along with freshman Kevin Marfo’s transfer and redshirt senior Matt Hart’s graduation, GW will be without redshirt junior Jaren Sina – a key member of the team’s starting backcourt who has decided to graduate early and turn pro.
Cavanaugh’s departure in particular causes a huge gap because it will be difficult for any one player on next years squad to match his scoring output (18.3 ppg) and rebounding talent (8.4 rpg) while still maintaining his efficiency and consistency.
Joseph is instead anticipating each member of the team to step up to negate the impact as a committee, he said.
“I’d rather fill [Cavanaugh’s role] as a unit,” Joseph said. “He is such a talented player, it is hard to replace what he does from a production standpoint, from a leadership standpoint and from an experience standpoint. You can’t ask any one person to take that over.”
Joseph said he hopes the Colonials will have a stronger start next fall, now that they know they will be under the same leadership and returning the majority of the roster.
“I want to be able to work on the things that we need to work on in April, throughout the summer and in the fall,” Joseph said. “And then jump into the season the way we want to jump into it, and not to be thrust into it.”