Before each University of Miami men’s basketball practice, head coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff provide players with a thought of the day. It could be anything from “begin with the end in mind” to “protect the paint.” Something to get them in the right headspace and give them direction.
Last year, whenever his teammates didn’t do their homework, then-freshman guard Bensley Joseph was always ready to chime in and remind them what to prioritize.
“He’s the responsible one,” Miami associate head coach Bill Courtney said. “He’s like the father making sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do.”
They don’t go around in a circle anymore. Now, it’s implied that Joseph — a 6-foot-2-inch, 207-pound sophomore and former four-star recruit from Arlington — will relay the thought of the day to the team.
Joseph’s preparedness, work ethic, and attention to detail have helped set him apart since his days at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club. His knack for inspiring and motivating — while averaging 5.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists as a sixth man this season — has been instrumental as the Hurricanes have pieced together an historic season.
Miami captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since 2013, and the fifth-seeded Hurricanes (27-7) face No. 1 Houston (33-3) on Friday (7:15 p.m.) for a second-straight trip to the Elite Eight.
“He’s a guy on the team that other players really respect,” Courtney said. “Even as a young kid, even as a freshman, our guys respected him. Part of that is because he plays so darn hard.”
Much of his mental fortitude comes from his mother, Rachel Lamonge, who grew up in Haiti before moving to Miami. Joseph spent the first eight months of his life in Miami, then the two moved to Arlington.
The only child supported his single mom over the years by cleaning the house and going on grocery runs, among other tasks, so she could stay off her feet as much as possible.
“That’s my queen,” Joseph said. “She’s just there for me. Anything I need, she helps me out. That’s my G.O.A.T. Everything I do, I do it for her.”
Joseph fell in love with basketball at Thompson Elementary School and the Boys & Girls Club. Former Arlington varsity coach and current athletic director John Bowler, who previously worked at the Club, first met Joseph when he was an energetic kindergartener. Once Joseph started dominating in third or fourth grade, Bowler realized he had the chance to be a special talent.
“Growing up in a small town, I was just a kid trying to work as hard as he could with a basketball dream,” Joseph said.
Joseph electrified the crowd at Arlington High his freshman and sophomore seasons, helping the Spy Ponders to back-to-back Middlesex League titles. He averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals as a sophomore, and poured in a career-high 33 points on a league-record nine 3-pointers against Belmont.
Joseph credited Bowler for helping him balance playing unselfishly and finding the right moment to make a big-time play.
Bowler said Joseph didn’t miss a practice in two years and never stopped pursuing perfection. He occasionally found himself watching from the sidelines like a fan would, mesmerized by Joseph’s magical moves.
“I don’t know if we’ve had a player that the crowd loved like that,” Bowler said. “When he got the ball, everyone was just waiting to see what he did.”
Joseph transferred to Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, then Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut before committing to Miami.
When Courtney saw him play at Cushing, he realized Joseph was the same kid with long arms that wreaked havoc atop the 1-3-1 defense for the seventh-grade Boston Bobcats AAU team when his son was a sixth-grader.
Courtney had a hunch back then that Joseph could be special, and he was thrilled to learn he was born in Miami and still had family there.
Joseph averaged 13.3 minutes per game as a freshman and saw regular action in the 10th-seeded Hurricanes’ surprise run to the Elite Eight. While Joseph was pleased to carve out a role, he knew he had room to grow, so he continued to grind.
This past summer, when Joseph returned home for a few days, he called Bowler from the airport and asked if he could open the gym for him at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night. Bowler wasn’t surprised at all, and was more than happy to oblige.
Joseph’s role has expanded this year; Larrañaga views him as a sixth starter and natural leader. Courtney called him one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and said opponents often ask a secondary option to bring the ball up so their best doesn’t have Joseph in his grill.
In an 85-69 win over No. 4 Indiana on Sunday, Joseph had 7 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a signature diving hustle play in 22 minutes.
He tries to represent Arlington the best he can on a national stage, knowing he may not be where he is today without his upbringing. In a town that has NBA champion Pat Connaughton as its basketball beacon, Joseph is perhaps the next rising star.
“There’s just so much pride any time Arlington gets mentioned on the national stage,” Bowler said. “He does a great job representing the town.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.