By Michael Sun
Yasiin Joseph’s journey to winning a third national championship with the Carleton Ravens was emblematic of how basketball has weaved through his life: It’s never been a given, and has featured some moments of adversity as well as others of personal growth.
Growing up in Ottawa’s Westboro area, Joseph fell in love with basketball at an early age.
The 6’1” guard remembers watching the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade in the 2006 NBA Finals, which sparked his interest in the game. Joseph recalls playing in open gym times at Glebe Collegiate, the YMCA in Ottawa’s downtown and at Westboro’s centre for youth. He added toughness by scrimmaging against older players. Playing ball was part of a “very fun” childhood, he says.
“I just loved playing basketball for a long time, competing against other people,” he noted. “I was open to learning different moves and learning from people at a young age.”
Around Grade 8, Joseph wanted to join the Ottawa Guardsmen, but says his family couldn’t cover the costs. An eventual coach of his at Carleton, assistant Aaron Blakely, helped him along the next season, which was the first year that he played competitively.
“He’s an all-time great coach man,” Joseph said about Blakely. “He’s one of the mentors of my life, mentors of basketball, and he helped me out a lot.”
Joseph says he built his skills as a player with the Guardsmen and also found a new sense of motivation in the atmosphere of the club team.
“I liked it because I came in and I heard it was the best players in the city, so I was like, oh, let me see if I’m up there and just, I loved the game so much,” Joseph recalled. “I loved to compete and I always wanted to be the best when I was growing up in the city.”
Joseph also grew as a player at Glebe, where he won a city championship, but after an additional year of high school he wasn’t sure about his future.
One Smart phone call
“I didn’t have any offers, didn’t have any places to go to. I was kind of stuck. I didn’t know what to do and [Ravens head coach Dave Smart] called me and said, ‘do you want to play,’ and I said, ‘yeah sure, I have nowhere else to go. I don’t know what to do.’”
The decision was simple for him, and it paid off as he learned about competitiveness, leadership and the value of hard work through his years as a Raven.
“I’m going to take this,” Joseph recalled. “This is the best place, the best school for basketball. I’m going to learn a lot from the coaches that are there. This is the best decision for me. I need all the hard stuff. As a kid, I wanted everything to be easy, but it helped me a lot.”
Joseph said it was a struggle in the early years – so much so that he lost much of his hope of playing.
“I didn’t think I was good enough,” he said.
He credits players who were veterans for keeping him determined when he was an underclassman.
“They didn’t just say things, they did things that really helped me out … it just opened up my eyes,” Joseph noted.
He says his growth continued in his second season of university play, when he began to evaluate himself more naturally. In his third year he stepped into the starting role after two seasons of coming off the bench.
That season, 2017-18, he was named an OUA first-team all-star. And this year, following a familiarly dominant performance at the U Sports championships by the Ravens, he became a national champion for a third time.
Things were a bit different during this year’s championship season; the fourth-year point guard was familiar to the floor in a way that he hadn’t been during his first two title runs in 2016 and 2017. This season’s title was the Ravens’ 14th in total. They’ve won them in the last 17 years, all during the Smart-era of coaching.
Joseph will be back next season for his fifth and final year with the Ravens and seems poised to continue his growth into a leader on the team.
“Whatever comes. I have to go 150 per cent to see where I can go,” Joseph said of the future. “I don’t want no regrets, so I have to put 150 (per cent) in.”
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s basketball team placed 3rd at the U Sports basketball championships. The Ravens men’s hockey team won the bronze medal in the OUA, which was good enough to secure them the seventh seed at March’s U Sports University Cup.