October 8, 2010

Canadian duo gives Texas a boost

No matter where they travel, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson have a way of finding each other.

Their friendship has taken them from the Great White North to a Las Vegas suburb and finally to the Lone Star State. They started out as youth-league rivals in Toronto and developed into teammates for national powers at the high school and college level.

The two Texas freshmen have so much in common that it would be easy to assume they arrived in Austin as a package deal. It also would be incorrect.

"If we were a package deal," Joseph noted, "I would have committed when he committed."

Joseph, a 6-foot-3 point guard, didn't sign with Texas until late April, two years after Thompson had made his commitment. So the longtime friends certainly considered playing for different schools before they ultimately arrived at the same decision.

But now that they're together again, they can't help but admit the benefits that come from playing on the same team. Not only is Texas getting two of the top 20 prospects in the country, it also is adding two McDonald's All-Americans already familiar with each other's games.

"We've known each other so long," said Thompson, a 6-8 forward. "Sometimes two freshmen go to college, and they don't know each other. ... We know each other and have that chemistry. Cory knows where I like to get the ball. I know where he likes to get the ball.

"We know some things that some freshmen have to use that freshman year to figure out. Knowing each other on the court, it puts us ahead of the curve."

Joseph said Thompson's presence also has helped him off the court.

"Having a friend here, it's not like you're going into something completely fresh or new," Joseph said. "There's someone by your side who has your back."

Their indirect path from Canada to Texas might seem improbable, but Joseph and Thompson are part of a growing number of Canadian players making an impact in the States.

Getting to know the freshmen
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-3/180
HIGH SCHOOL: Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep
HOMETOWN: Toronto
THE BUZZ: This McDonald's All-American is the No. 8 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He teamed with former Texas guard Avery Bradley during his junior year at Findlay Prep, the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the RivalsHigh 100 that season. Joseph averaged 18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.5 steals as a senior while helping Findlay Prep rank third in the RivalsHigh 100. He won the 3-point shooting contest before the McDonald's All-American Game.
RIVALS RECRUITING ANALYST JERRY MEYER: "He's one of the more polished point guards to come out recently. He's very mature. He's definitely ready to play. ... He has a great feel for the game. He has a very advanced feel on how to balance his ability to score and also distribute the ball. He distributes the ball with precision and a lot of awareness about making sure guys get touches and making sure the right guys get touches in the right place. He has a very advanced intellect for the game."
FINDLAY PREP COACH MICHAEL PECK: "He's a once-in-a-lifetime type of player. I don't anticipate there probably being another Cory Joseph I'll be able to coach in my lifetime. He's a special player with an unbelievable flair for the game. He sees the game through a coach's eyes. He has a great understanding of the basic concepts. He plays one or two plays ahead and knows what's going to happen. On top of that, he's extremely competitive. He goes hard. You don't have to motivate him."
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-8/230
HIGH SCHOOL: Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep
HOMETOWN: Brampton, Ontario, Canada
THE BUZZ: Thompson is a McDonald's All-American and the No. 17 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He began his junior year at St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J., before transferring to Findlay Prep for the last five games of his junior season. Thompson spent his entire senior year at Findlay Prep. He averaged 15.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks and also shot 60.9 percent from the floor as a senior.
RIVALS RECRUITING ANALYST JERRY MEYER: "He's a high-energy player who loves to play physical. He's not overly athletic. He's a good athlete, not necessarily a great athlete. He brings a great work ethic, sort of a blue-collar type of approach to the court. He can score as well. He has a nice jump hook and gets fouled a lot because he plays so physical. I think he'll score some, too, but you know he's going to make the hustle and the energy plays for you."
FINDLAY PREP COACH MICHAEL PECK: "The skill set he has for his size is just tremendous. Not a lot of guys his size have his hands and his ability to get the ball to the basket and finish with his right or left. He can run fast, compete with and defend smaller guys. He rebounds. He's very mobile and agile. He's got great hands for a big guy. He can catch everything and rebound everything."
Three of the top 25 prospects in the 2010 freshman class are Canadians: Joseph (No. 8), Thompson (No. 17) and Stanford forward Dwight Powell (No. 25). Gonzaga's roster includes three Canadians: Robert Sacre, Mangisto Arop and Kelly Olynyk. Joseph's older brother, Devoe, is a junior guard at Minnesota. Joseph's cousin, Kris Joseph, is a junior forward for Syracuse. Kris Joseph's older brother, Maurice Joseph, helped Vermont reach the NCAA tournament last season after transferring from Michigan State.

"The AAU programs are getting stronger in Canada, and the infrastructure is getting in place to help produce prospects and get them down to the States," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "You keep hearing more and more about Canadian players. When I first started here about eight years ago, it seemed like Canadian guys never quite panned out. They were overhyped, overrated. Now it doesn't seem to be that way. The prospects seem to be legit high-major prospects."

Thompson and Joseph certainly seem legit, though both left Canada to finish their high school careers in the United States.

Joseph spent the past two seasons playing for one of the nation's top prep programs at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. Thompson initially went from Canada to St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J., before transferring to Findlay Prep late in his junior year.

Thompson and Joseph understood the sacrifices inherent in moving thousands of miles away from their families, but they believed their choice would help them mature as players and as students.

"I knew that Tristan was always independent, a very strong person," said Thompson's mother, Andrea Thompson. "I knew he'd be OK."

Moving to the States certainly paid off on the court. Thompson and Joseph helped Findlay Prep rank fifth in the final RivalsHigh 100 national poll last season. One year earlier, Joseph and former Texas star Avery Bradley teamed in the backcourt for a Findlay Prep team that topped the RivalsHigh 100 all season.

"It helped my game tremendously," Thompson said of his move to the States. "In Canada... the competition's way different. Coming down to New Jersey and Las Vegas, the competition level goes up by 10. They take basketball seriously. They want to make a career of it. In Canada, it was more like a hobby and what they do for fun."

Joseph and Thompson didn't head south purely for basketball purposes. Heading to Nevada also benefited them in the classroom.

"There were a lot less distractions," said Joseph's mother, Connie Joseph. "It sounds funny because he was in Las Vegas, but there really were less distractions for him there than there would have been here in Toronto. Plus the level of instruction [was different]. Here he was going to public school. They had these small class sizes [at Findlay] so he was getting a lot more attention, and he did do a lot better."

Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck said he noticed the way Johnson and Thompson had matured by the time they graduated.

"It's basically like they were starting college at the high school age," Peck said. "They're moving away from home and living in a setting where they're living with their teammates. There's a lot more independence. Mom's not picking up after you and Mom's not making sure your plate is hot every time you're sitting down for a meal or that you've got your fair share of vegetables.

"They have to be responsible for themselves [by] doing their own laundry, being on time, taking care of academics, being socially responsible and competing at a high level on the basketball court. They grow up fast and they mature throughout the process just because of the nature of our setup."

Although they followed similar paths to Texas, Joseph and Thompson have quite different backgrounds.

Joseph grew up in a basketball family, as his mother and father played collegiately in Canada. Joseph and his brother inherited their parents' passion for the game and started playing as soon as they could.

"There was one summer when their dad had a basketball camp with 20-30 kids," Connie Joseph said. "They'd be playing from 9 to 5, then they'd come home, it would be dark out and they'd still be playing at the hoop on the driveway.

"Sometimes you think because you love something, you try to get your kids into it and maybe it's not their thing. That's when I realized, 'Maybe they really do like it.' "

Thompson got serious about the game at a later age. He played soccer for much of his childhood until his height made him focus more on basketball.

He and Joseph also had different approaches to their college decisions. Thompson had his mind made up so early that he committed to Texas as a high school sophomore.

"It just felt like home," he said. "It was love at first sight. I knew I had to be here."

Joseph needed a lot more time to make his selection. The thought of playing alongside his brother at Minnesota was appealing. Joseph also considered Villanova, Connecticut and UNLV. He ultimately couldn't ignore Texas' recent tradition of producing NBA point guards.

"They've had a lot of great point guards who've come through here," Joseph said. "D.J. Augustin. T.J. Ford. I think the point guard development is great here at Texas. I think Coach [Rick] Barnes will help develop me like those two."

These two blue-chip prospects should make an immediate impact at Texas. Joseph has a complete game that allows him to work at either guard position, though he's best suited to play the point. He's a good shooter who plays exceptional defense. Peck noted that Joseph doesn't have as much athleticism as Bradley but pointed out that the incoming freshman has a better feel for the game and shares his former high school teammate's competitiveness.

Thompson provides instant energy and rebounding ability. He also is remarkably agile and has particularly good hands for a big man.

"Both these guys are going to be huge assets because they're such great teammates," Texas assistant coach Rodney Terry said. "They're kids who come from winning programs. They've had a chance to experience a high level of winning. They're winners. That's all they really care about."

They already have played together and have won together. That experience and common bond should allow them to withstand any obstacles they encounter in their college careers.

Joseph may not be playing with his actual brother, but this might represent the closest possible alternative.

"Everything I go through and he goes through, we can talk about it," Thompson said. "We can go through any adversity we have [together]. It makes the whole adjustment period smoother."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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