AAU pals Joseph, Adams on a tear for Cushing

Kaleb Joseph didn’t know much about life away at prep school when he made the decision to transfer from Nashua South High School to Cushing Academy halfway through his sophomore year.

“I was pretty nervous about leaving home, I had never done anything like that before,” says Joseph. “But I think it’s helped me a lot as a person, and of course as a player too.”

As a player, his on-court maturity may be the most impressive part of Joseph’s progression. Before last summer, the knock on the 6-foot-2 junior was that he didn’t have the ability to run an offense or create for others. Through experience and playing for talented squads at Cushing as well as for his Mass Rivals AAU team, Joseph has truly learned how to unselfishly create for others and play the point guard position.

Then again, sharing the same backcourt year-round with one of New England’s best scorers probably helped a little bit.

Jalen Adams dominated Middlesex League play as a sophomore at Melrose High, taking home MVP honors and earning a spot on ESPNBoston.com's All-State Team, before making the decision last fall to transfer to Cushing and re-classify to the 2015 class. Over the summer playing for Vin Pastore with the Rivals, the high-scoring Adams developed quite the on-court chemistry with Joseph, who at the time was still trying to prove his worth at the point guard position to high major coaches.

The Rivals traveled all over the country last summer, winning the Hoop Group Providence Jam Fest and the NERR Northeast Hoops Festival, making the final four of the highly prestigious Adidas Super 64, as well as traveling to Indianapolis. The players spent a lot of time together, and while they were tearing teams up on the court, Joseph and Adams became close friends off it.

“With teammates, we’re on the road all the time, you have no choice but to be close with them. You’re together constantly,” says Joseph.

“[The chemistry] happened quickly during AAU,” Adams said. “Kaleb and I are pretty close. We hang out a lot off the court, I go to his house a lot. We’re pretty good friends. We spend a lot of time going to open gyms and then playing video games [during downtime].”

Local schools quickly took notice of Adams, whom Pastore calls “Roxbury tough.” The talented sophomore was offered by both Providence and UConn last August. Adams has on several occasions topped the 30-point plateau in games this season, and because of that, he is quickly developing a national reputation.

A similar pattern has unfolded with Joseph. He has blown up on a nationwide scale—with offers now from high-level programs like Syracuse, Maryland, Tennessee, and Seton Hall. Even Duke made a call a couple of weeks ago to inquire about him.

“Most players think of offers as a big accomplishment, but for me it’s more of a reason to work harder,” Joseph said, “If they don’t think you’re ready [when you get to college], then it doesn’t mean anything. When I get calls, it makes me feel good that hard work is being noticed, but it also means you have to work even harder.”

Pastore is one of the elder statesmen on the New England AAU circuit. He’s been coaching AAU for 23 years, but has no problem giving credit where it is due.

“They’re the best combination of guards I’ve ever coached. Kaleb is fine with Jalen scoring 30 and him only getting 10 or 15, they understand that being unselfish will benefit them in the long run. Both great people too, you’re talking about zero maintenance kids.”

Joseph considers Pastore one of his mentors, as he spends a lot of his offseason working out with Pastore or Scott Hazelton. Hazelton was a McDonald’s All-American while starring for Central Catholic in the late 90’s, he now coaches the girls team at Bishop Guertin (N.H.) and runs the girls side of Mass Rivals AAU. Because he played professionally overseas, a lot of Pastore’s players on the boys side have learned from Hazelton, who was mentored and played AAU for Pastore.

“It means a lot that he said that about us. If you know Vinny, you know he doesn’t give out compliments often, so it feels good that he thinks that. Again, It only makes me want to work harder, though,” Joseph said.

Joseph and Adams roomed together at Cushing up until early January. Because of the constant shuffling of rooms in dormitories, Adams was moved to a different dorm. In their time living together at school though, Joseph was happy to develop a bond with Adams and help him with adjusting to life away from home:

“It was Jalen’s first year here, and he didn’t know what to expect," Joseph said. "So I knew exactly what he was going through. We talked about that a lot [in the fall].”

He continued, with a laugh, “Has he learned from me? I’d say yes and no. Yes because Vinny will have me look after him because he’s kind of a goofball sometimes. But no because to Jalen it doesn’t matter how old he is, he’s going to take care of business and get it done.”

They both have certainly gotten it done so far this prep season. Cushing is in second place in NEPSAC's loaded Class AA field. Two of their three losses, Marianapolis (Conn.) and Kimball Union (N.H.), have come by a combined four points. Joseph still has two more years of prep ball to be played at Cushing, while Adams has three. With their unselfish mindset and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, Cushing sure won’t be losing many games over the next two years.

“The leadership says a lot about Kaleb. He wants to lift himself up, he wants to lift other people up," Pastore said. "That tells you something about him. Kaleb’s a special young guy, he’s deep, there’s a lot to him, and Jalen has spent a lot of the last year proving people wrong one-by-one.”

“When you get players like those guys, as a coach, a lot of it is luck. They’re sort of like brothers, you always want to see your brother do even better than you.”