At The Master's College, a Christian fundamentalist school, they no doubt encourage modesty. But Jerome Joseph might be pushing it a tad.

"I think I've had an OK year," he said.

OK? In his second season playing on the men's basketball team at Master's, Joseph is on his second tour at the NAIA Division I championships, this time as one of the team's catalysts.

The Mustangs (23-11), making their fifth consecutive appearance at the championships, wouldn't be playing a first-round game against Oklahoma City (25-4) tonight at 6:45 at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., if not for Joseph's contributions.

The 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from Chatsworth High led the Mustangs during the regular season with averages of 16.8 points and 3.4 assists and 70 three-point baskets. His 3.2 rebounding average ranks fifth on the team.

He led Master's in scoring in 16 games, including a career-high 34 points in an 88-64 victory over Christian Heritage on Feb. 19.

"He really did a great job, especially at the end of the [regular] season," Master's Coach Bill Oates said. "He shot the ball well down the stretch . . . He can shoot from outside and he can drive to the basket. Plus he's strong for his size."

Joseph, who was selected to the NAIA All-Midwest Region Independents team, has been hitting the mark for years.

In his senior season at Chatsworth in 1995-96, Joseph averaged 24.9 points, third best among City Section players in the region, and was chosen to the All-City 4-A Division team. He led the Chancellors with a 19.7 scoring average as a junior.

Oates knew about Joseph's religious convictions and recruited him.

"My parents are church folk," Joseph said. "What really attracted me [to Master's] was I wanted to stay close to my family. That was a real big factor.

"Another thing was the Christian atmosphere. And I knew I was going to be able to come in and play."

Joseph started for the Mustangs last season, averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 assists, but All-American seniors Mike Penberthy and Leo Gorauskas were the leaders.

This season, some of that responsibility fell on Joseph. He hasn't disappointed.

"You have nights when your jump shot is off, but you can still lead other guys, especially in situations when we might be losing or [the game] is coming down to the wire," Joseph said.

The Mustangs, who play as independents and are unseeded at the championships, will need leadership to survive the 32-team, single-elimination tournament that runs through Monday.

Joseph said the team remains upbeat.

"We had a meeting and we said that even though we are not ranked, anything can happen in the tournament," Joseph said. "This year we are more together [than last season] and depend on each other more. Everyone on our team can play."

Starting with Joseph, who has 1,019 points and in two more seasons could challenge for Master's career scoring record of 2,378 points set by Carl Turner in 1976-80.

By then, the Mustangs might even own a national title, but don't count on Joseph getting a big head.

"Everybody has an ego to a certain degree," he said, "but you have to know how to handle that and stay humble.

"If you get too high, eventually you're going to fall."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World