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NBA PM: One-on-One With Cory Joseph

Moke Hamilton talks to Cory Joseph about his first year in Toronto, lessons learned in San Antonio and more.

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After becoming an NBA champion, with hard work and dedication having seemingly paid off, he returned home to a hero’s welcome. Armed with a big contract and with expectations thrust upon him, he’s welcomed them all and is looking forward to achieving his every goal.

And no, we’re not talking about LeBron James. We’re talking about the Ontario-born Cory Joseph, the fifth-year point guard who has taken his talents back home to the Toronto Raptors and is quietly enjoying the best season of his young career.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Joseph told Basketball Insiders of returning to his native Ontario to play for his hometown Raptors. “I don’t feel the pressure, I feel support. There’s a lot of love. My family, friends, everybody there that loves me for who I am. I’m not even taking about basketball. Basketball is the easy part, I just gotta go out there and play hard.”

There’s no question that he has. The Raptors enter play on February 24 with a 37-18 record and seem poised to set the franchise’s single-season win record. Again.

All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan get most of the credit for the Raptors quietly turning into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but a wise general manager once said that the top three players on a team make you good, while the next three players on the team make you great.

Joseph’s nine points, 3.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game off Toronto’s bench aren’t necessarily eye-popping numbers, but he is only one of six players on Dwane Casey’s roster to appear in all 55 games for the Raptors through February 24 and has given the team an experienced hand.

Not many 24-year-old NBA players have experienced crushing defeat in the NBA Finals and sweet redemption the following year, but coming of age with the San Antonio Spurs was a part of Joseph’s story and a part of what he brings to the table.

When I first met Joseph during the 2013 NBA Finals, he was a bright-eyed sophomore who had earned a reputation among his teammates as a quiet, hard-working kid who had a bright future. The minutes weren’t there in abundance, but he took his experiences and opportunities seriously and became a favorite of the staff in San Antonio.

“It was just hard work,” Joseph said about turning 9.2 minutes per game as a rookie into a four-year, $30 million deal from the Raptors this past summer. “Behind the scenes, I worked on my game everyday, and honestly, I had a lot of good teachers there to help me.

“When I was there, I learned so much from Tony [Parker]. I learned so much from Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier; they would sit me down and watch all my film, they would review film with me and whatnot.”

And after being asked what was the best lesson he learned over the course of his four years in San Antonio, Joseph sighed and looked at every corner of the visitor’s locker room in Madison Square Garden before finding his answer.

“Just don’t take my opportunities for granted,” he said.

So far, so good.

“Here, with the Raptors, we watch countless hours of film, and I just try to get better everyday,” Joseph said. “I want to be a great guard in this league. That’s what I strive for everyday. I just work hard and it’s as simple as that. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s what it is.”

Joseph, though born in Toronto, has a slight Trinidadian accent that, no doubt, comes from his father’s side of the family. Cory’s father, David, was born in Trinidad and Tobago and currently serves as head coach at Centennial College in Toronto. Joseph joins a long list of NBA players with Caribbean lineage—a list that includes fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins, New Yorker Kemba Walker and NBA All-Star Andre Drummond.

Of them, Joseph is the only one who can boast being an NBA champion. And with that success under his belt, he knows that at just 24 years old, after returning home to Toronto and being entrusted by Dwane Casey to provide a steady hand for one of the league’s more underrated teams, there is much further for him to go.

“I can’t point out just one, because there’s so many lessons that I have learned over the years,” Joseph said, now in his fifth professional season in the NBA. “I know that off the court—you could work so hard—but you gotta prepare yourself with everyday aspects of life. Sleep well, eat right and do everything that you could possibly do, off the court, to be prepared for your opportunity.

“I felt like I worked hard and was prepared for my opportunity when it came. And that’s what has kept me moving forward.”

Credit general manager for Masai Ujiri for what he has built in Toronto. As for Joseph, without a doubt, his presence, professionalism and consistency has been a major part of Dwane Casey’s team’s success this season.

LeBron James went home, and Cory Joseph did, too. And as the latter continues to strive to accomplishh his goals, with the Toronto Raptors, together, the quest to continually move forward continues.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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