Senior guard Victor Joseph spent only two seasons on the court for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, but he made a big impact for the Mustangs in his short time here.
His journey to NCAA Division I basketball took longer than expected and was anything but guaranteed.
The early years
“Both of my parents just put the ball in my hands,” Joseph said. As a three-year-old, he’d hold a basketball bigger than his body, and now he’s a college star seeking a professional career.
Born and raised in southern California, Joseph had the typical athletic childhood for a young boy. He tried several sports, including football and basketball through grade school, and eventually settled on the sport that brought him the most success and happiness: basketball.
His basketball journey was not quite as predictable. During his senior year of high school, Joseph averaged 21.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game — a season good enough to bring in one college offer. But during his official visit to the school, the team’s offer was no longer valid due to complications on the school’s end.
Joseph was in a tough spot. With no offers, he made the decision to attend a junior college one week before school began.
Joseph continued his basketball career at Chaffey College, in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He was eligible to leave after one year of community college, but was not offered any Division I scholarships after his freshman season. He decided to stay another year and improved his statistics.
Joseph led the Foothill Conference during the 2015-16 season averaging 21.3 points per game. He also won Player of the Year during that season and led the team to the 2016 California Community College Athletic Association Final Four.
Joseph’s improvement over his sophomore season at Chaffey led to five scholarship offers from Division I schools.
While things were starting to look up for Joseph and his basketball career, his personal life took a hit during his time at Chaffey.
At the end of Joseph’s freshman year of college, his childhood best friend passed away.
“I moved around to a lot of schools when I was younger, so when I came to Rancho [Cucamonga] … I just remember meeting my first friend Nick. He was like a brother to me,” Joseph said.
During his freshman year of college, Joseph suffered another loss. An uncle-like figure to him was shot in the back of the head.
Joseph pays tribute to both of these men through tattoos on his body. Nick is represented on Joseph’s chest and his “uncle” is represented on his wrist.
Cal Poly bound
Cal Poly was one of the five schools looking to sign Joseph onto their roster for the 2016-17 season, and after seeing Joseph’s improvement through junior college, Cal Poly men’s basketball head coach Joe Callero was sold.
“The thing that I recognized after his second year in junior college was that he was a very intelligent guy in his ability to evaluate himself,” Callero said. “[Joseph] is one of those guys that is very realistic about his ability and what he needs to be successful.”
Joseph attended Cal Poly league camps while still in high school. The coaching staff saw potential, but they were waiting for Joseph to prove himself by adding more muscle.
After his visit to San Luis Obispo, Joseph was in.
“The coaching staff when I came on my visit just seemed like the perfect fit for me,” Joseph said. “It was actually my first visit that I came on so I felt like it was the right place.”
Feelin’ like a Ferrari
Joseph averaged 12 points per game during his first season with Cal Poly and started in less than half of the regular season games.
Again, it took a second season for Joseph to shine. Joseph’s senior campaign for Cal Poly made a mark for his career, as he led the team to the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament and won Cal Poly’s Most Valuable Player award for the 2017-18 season.
Joseph averaged 14.4 points per game during the season and started in all 31 games. His free throw percentage sat at 88 percent, moving him to seventh all-time in program history with a career average of 85 percent.
Alongside Joseph during the season was point guard Donovan Fields, not only Joseph’s teammate but also his close friend. The two Cal Poly guards haven’t known each other for long but have become like brothers according to Fields.
“I hope to see him achieve all of his goals and dreams with basketball professionally,” Fields said. “We have always talked about making money doing what we love and providing for our families.”
Joseph agreed that this has always been a dream of his. Just making it to the Division I collegiate level was enough.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing at this level and I’m always watching ESPN and imagining myself playing,” Joseph said. “Watching the replays of my games and hearing the announcers and commentators talking about me … That’s been crazy.”
Fields and Joseph have created a workout ritual during their time playing together. While warming up, the two ask each other what car they are driving for the day. Their responses would be a dream car of theirs, insinuating that they are feeling better than ever.
“He would say, ‘Don what you driving?’” Fields said. “I would always say a Porsche or a Rolls Royce and then I’d ask him and he’d say a Lamborghini or Ferrari. If we saw each other getting tired, we’d be like, ‘You look like you’re driving a Honda today.’”
Joseph credits his friends, family and God for his success and glory, but his family support has always come above the rest.
“It’s big time,” said Joseph. “During the high school era it was more constructive criticism, but now you can just see how happy they are about how far I have come and they always tell me how proud they are of me.”
Joseph acknowledges himself as a scorer on the court that can also get teammates involved. He prides himself on his energy and intensity on the court, and the work he does on both sides of the ball. He is not satisfied, however, and has set goals for himself on the player he hopes to become.
“I hope to be the best teammate overall, somebody that always plays his heart out every game and every practice — and keep that going on into the future,” Joseph said.
And into the future, he goes with hopes of playing professional basketball wherever opportunity takes him, be it in the United States or overseas.
Callero has the same hopes for his player, saying that if Joseph is “happy, healthy and playing pro ball,” he will be more than proud.
If his goals are made reality, Joseph would not be the first person in his family to make it to the pros. Glenn McDonald, Joseph’s uncle, won a championship title with the Boston Celtics in 1976. Joseph has a strong relationship with his uncle, but strives to create a name for himself.
“I ask him from time to time for advice on what I should do for my professional career,” Joseph said. “He would never just come up to me and start giving me advice so I would feel like I am being harassed by an NBA player, but any time I ask him he is completely honest with me and helps me with a lot of different situations.”
Joseph participated in the 3x3U National Championship Tournament in late March and took home the second place prize. Joseph and his teammates were flown out to San Antonio, Texas in an all-expenses-paid trip — his first taste of playing for pay.
Joseph, along with three other Big West seniors, competed against 30 other teams in a “pool play” tournament. Joseph said despite being the underdog, his team went out and played hard every game, continuously winning until they found themselves in the finals. The Big West lost to the Big Ten in the championship game, but all four members of the team still walked away with more than $1,000 each.
This experience gave him a small glimpse at the lifestyle he is pursuing, but Joseph said he knows how much sacrifice is coming his way. He said that to be a professional athlete, one must stay dedicated and motivated while maintaining a healthy lifestyle and peak physical fitness. Giving up fun is part of the game. However, Joseph said he is prepared to make these adjustments and that he already possesses the traits of a professional athlete.
Callero agreed that Joseph has many qualities on top of his basketball skills necessary in the professional world. Callero said Joseph has “tremendous skill, tremendous personality and a tremendous feel for the game,” but said he will need to work on his physical traits, including strength, endurance and weight.
An NBA season is much longer than a college season and Callero said the body breaks down often unless well-prepared. Callero, however, has no worries that Joseph will prosper.
“I call it emotional stamina,” Callero said. “Victor Joseph has excellent emotional stamina. He is competitive, he is tough as nails, but he never gets too down, too long and he never gets too high, too long. And that is the key to being successful both in sports and in life.”
As Joseph plans for his near future as a professional basketball player, he said he is also considering his post-basketball career options. Helping people, he said, is a top priority.
“I want to help kids out where I’m from,” Joseph said. “It wasn’t very easy for me to get here, so now knowing what I know and who I know, I want to help them get there.”
And indeed it was not an easy path for Joseph — but now he only looks forward to the future of his career, planning to make a decision on an agency within the next few weeks.
“Every situation has really molded me [into] who I am,” Joseph said. “It has all just motivated me to be the player I am today — with all of these different setbacks and everything, just knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You have to go through those things to keep pushing on.”