First off, there’s the fact that he’s big enough to crush just about anyone dumb enough to do such a thing – with all 6-foot, 8-inches and 310 pounds of his Brooklyn-bred mass. More importantly, he’s just not the type of guy who precipitates violence.
“He’s probably one of the best people I know, overall,” said Western teammate Alex Hart. “Once you start talking to him, you can tell how good of a person he is and how moral he is as a person.”
“He’s got an infectious smile and a kind heart,” added head coach Mike Moskowitz. “He’s just a terrific person and easy to be around.”
That’s what had people puzzled when Joseph received six gunshot wounds outside of his apartment complex the night of June 2, 2008. A rising star in the big-time prep basketball scene of New York City – seemingly loved by everyone around him – had been gunned down in cold blood.
In an instant, a scholarship to play basketball for Sienna and offers from multiple other widely respected Division I programs across the country were gone. So much for his All-NYC honors and top-150 ranking among prep power forwards across the nation.
“Snacks is a lovable kid,” South Shore High School coach Mike Beckles told The New York Daily News after the incident. “He’d be the last one I expect to have something like that happen to him. It has to be a wrong place at the wrong time kind of thing.”
Turns out, that’s exactly what it was. When the offenders returned to the scene where a confrontation had taken place early that day, Joseph wound up being misidentified as their target.
“I was just walking home at night,” Joseph explained. “I (saw) everybody outside and stopped to say ‘what’s up?’”
Before he knew what was happening, he was hit with six bullets from a .9 mm. He was shot in the arms, legs, chest and lower back.
“I couldn’t feel part of my body ... I thought it was over,” said Joseph. “But I kept believing it was okay.”
The most severe of his wounds struck his tailbone, less than an inch away from what could have been a fatal, or seriously debilitating, injury to the spinal cord. It wasn’t until seven months later that he started walking again.
Far removed from the dream that was playing collegiate basketball, and 60 pounds heavier from a long stint of inactivity, bouts with depression kept Joseph holed-up in his room for days on end.
“I thought about giving up,” he explained. “That’s when my mom told me that I couldn’t be like that. She just told me that I could do it.”
He started walking more, getting out of the house and going to watch basketball games at a nearby park. Almost a year and a half after the incident, he couldn’t take being on the sidelines any longer.
“Seeing everybody getting hype over making a play made me miss it,” said Joseph. “I started thinking that I can’t walk away from this. I can’t give up.”
Joseph started playing well enough on the local circuit to get noticed by the right people. Next thing he knew, his college basketball career began – albeit delayed – at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, Calif., in 2009.
After earning first-team Pacific Coast Athletic Conference honors and averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, he transferred to Salt Lake City Community College for the 2010-11 season. That’s when Moskowitz’s Western staff first put “Snacks” on their recruiting radar.
Twelve games into his career with the Mountaineers and Joseph is second on the team in both points and rebounds per game, with 10.3 and 6.1, respectively. He also leads the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in blocks per game, at 1.6.
“He’s a big body in the paint, which we haven’t had for a number of years,” said Moskowitz. “His best basketball is still in front of him if he develops a work ethic and motivates himself to be the best he can be.”
While the Mountaineers have struggled out of the gate to a 2 and 6 record in the RMAC, Joseph’s presence on the court is as infectious as his personality off of it. The student section of Paul Wright Gym is abuzz every time he touches the ball.
And his magnetism is even creating new fans. Long-time Gunnison resident and Western student Tyler Lull said that he and a friend have gone to two recent games despite not even liking basketball all that much.
“He’s a huge dude, so he should be scary. But you can have a conversation with him and he’s way nicer than most people,” said Lull. “I probably wouldn’t be going to the games if he didn’t invite me.”
“It’s just my personality,” Joseph explained. “I like to have fun, laugh and joke around. I’m never really mad.”
However, he has come to some pretty serious conclusions about the adversity he had to overcome to be where he is today. For Joseph, the twists and turns that life can provide share a lot in common with the sport he loves so much.
“Anything can happen at any moment in the game, that’s what I like about (basketball),” Joseph said. “The whole thing made me think that I’m really here to do something if I could go through (being shot).”
As for the change in pace that living the Gunnison lifestyle implies, he’s been enjoying the peace and quiet.
“I’m happy that I’m here and not back in New York,” said Joseph, noting many friends who are either in jail or dead. “At least now, I don’t have to walk down the block looking behind my back.”
The Mountaineers will host RMAC contests in Paul Wright gym this Friday and Saturday, against UC-Colorado Springs and CSU-Pueblo, respectively. Both games tip-off at 8 p.m.
Story by Matt Smith, staff writer, and posted with permission from the "