By Jeff McDonald
Maybe he could have been a little more proactive about getting the ball in bounds. Maybe he could have been a little quicker in calling timeout.
Given a do-over, Cory Joseph certainly would have done something to change what became the unfortunate enduring moment of his one-season college career at Texas.
Absent the ability to time-travel, Joseph has settled on the next-best option for dealing with crushing defeat.
“The Arizona game?” asked Joseph, the former UT point guard turned Spurs’ first-round draft choice. “I can’t dwell on it. I put that one behind me.”
With all that now lies ahead of Joseph, the 19-year-old taken by the Spurs with the 29th overall pick in last week’s draft, letting go and moving on seems to be as sound a strategy as any.
Selected a little more than an hour after the Spurs dealt backup point George Hill to Indiana, Joseph arrives in San Antonio with what appears to be a clear shot at earning minutes behind Tony Parker.
His ability to forget the infamous and controversial five-second call that all but ended UT’s NCAA tournament run in March will be almost as critical as his aptitude in picking up the complexities of a Spurs playbook notoriously hard on rookies.
“A game is a game,” Joseph said. “You love to play, and you live and die by it. But after it’s over, you just have to let it go.”
In tabbing Joseph the franchise’s first UT draftee in 24 years, the Spurs were willing to overlook his final collegiate moment and focus on others that had come before.
There was the game-winning shot that beat North Carolina in December. And there were smaller, almost imperceptible strides he made throughout the season.
Though the 6-foot-3 Joseph never quite lived up to billing as the nation’s seventh-ranked recruit, he did lead UT in assists (three per game), steals (37) and 3-point percentage (41.3) to go with his 10.4 points per game.
With an adopted son playing at Texas, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford perhaps saw Joseph more than any other NBA executive. What caught his eye was something that also must warm the cockles of coach Gregg Popovich’s heart.
“He was as committed to playing defense as any guard we saw,” Buford said.
Like San Diego State small forward Kawhi Leonard, a fellow 19-year-old the Spurs obtained from Indiana in the Hill trade, Joseph fits with the Spurs’ stated mission of returning to their defensive roots.
It’s a facet of the game Joseph said his father, David, stressed from the time he was a child.
“Locking a man down to zero points is better than you scoring 50,” said Joseph, the Spurs’ first draft pick from UT since Raynard Davis went in the seventh round in 1987. “My dad tried to instill that into me from an early age.”
Longhorns coach Rick Barnes says he was impressed with how Joseph grew as a leader and decision-maker during his short time in Austin.
“Cory has a quiet confidence about him, and he does all the little things that help a team,” Barnes said. “We would have loved the chance to work with him at Texas for a longer period of time, as we understand that he is just beginning to develop into the type of player we know he can become.”
Joseph, who won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until Aug. 20, comes with a maturity and poise that belies his callow age.
A Toronto native, Joseph left Canada just before his junior year of high school to attend Findlay Prep, a burgeoning basketball factory in Henderson, Nev. He came as part of a package that also included Tristan Thompson, who was drafted fourth overall by Cleveland last week.
“I got the business aspect of basketball since I was young,” Joseph said. “I had to leave my friends and family, which is a hard thing to do. It was hard on my mom and my family to let go of me, but it’s part of your dreams. It got me exposure.”
As hard as Joseph tries to forget it, what happened the night of March 20 in Tulsa, Okla., will always be part of his past.
It doesn’t matter that replays indicated Jim Burr, the official who whistled Joseph for the critical five-second call, was wrong.
Joseph will never completely erase his final memory in a UT uniform. He can only hope to make some new ones, some better ones, with the Spurs.
2011 draft: 29th overall
Position: Point guard
Birthdate: Aug. 20, 1991
Height, weight: 6-3, 185
College averages: 10.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 41.3 3-point pct.
Rundown: Didn’t quite live up to billing as nation’s No. 7 recruit in lone season at UT, but impressed scouts with defensive toughness and decision-making ability. Perimeter shooting a plus, but needs to improve finishing at rim.