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Indiana Kokomo at Valparaiso mens's basketball

Valparaiso's Lexus Williams drives the lane against Indiana Kokomo's Jonathan Hurt in Valparaiso's 78-40 win at Valparaiso.

Jonathan Miano, The Times

The routine was similar for Lexus Williams and Max Joseph. Almost like a living version of Groundhog Day which ended with the two Valparaiso point guards representing something of a human victory cigar throughout the 2015-16 basketball season. 

Keith Carter and Shane Hammink would do the heavy lifting for the Valparaiso offense and when the game was in the bag, one way or the other, then-coach Bryce Drew would summon Williams and Joseph from the deepest part of the bench. 

With the exception of the season-ending loss to George Washington and the overtime loss to Green Bay in the Horizon League tournament, Williams never took the floor when Valparaiso was leading by less than 10 points, let alone ever taking part in a meaningful minute on the court. 

"As far as being hard to go through, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through in my basketball career," Williams said.

Joseph had things a little better than his backcourt counterpart, but not by much. Where Williams would get 20 seconds in a game, Joseph would sometimes get a full minute. Where Lexus played three minutes against Cleveland State or five minutes against Youngstown State, Max would get five against the Vikings or nine against the Penguins. The only game of the year where Williams eclipsed Joseph in minutes came against Missouri State and that was just by an 8-to-7 advantage. 

"(Last season) was definitely hard," Joseph said. "The teammates I had always helped keep me level-headed. It was just motivation for me to look at what they're doing and do the same whenever the time comes."

The time is now for both Williams and Joseph. With Keith Carter being denied an additional year of eligibility and all signs pointing to Hammink playing more of an off-the-ball role this season, the Crusaders are in need of a point guard. 

Williams has held the job before, starting 23 games as a freshman in 2013-14. The Chicago native hit a wall down the stretch of the year and was looking to bounce back with a strong offseason when injury struck. Williams tore his ACL during a summer workout and then suffered a broken patella in January (2015) while going through a pregame workout at Green Bay. Williams diligently rehabbed throughout the summer and was cleared to resume practice just before the season. There were questions throughout the year as to where Williams was at physically and his lack of minutes (45 in Division I games during the 2015-16 season) suggested he wasn't fully recovered. 

"Last year, if I had to put a percent on it, I was at 100 percent once I got my brace off (in January)," Williams said. "I felt that I could've played, but those guys were rolling and we won 30 games, so I have nothing to complain about. I was happy to be out there and a part of history."

Joseph has never truly gotten a crack at the starting point guard position. The only time the Canadian native was ever in the starting lineup came against IU-Kokomo last season on a night when Carter, Hammink and several other starters sat out. Joseph has been pressed into service on numerous occasions due to injury, most notably when Carter dislocated his toe during Joseph's freshman year. Now a junior, Joseph saw 253 minutes against Division I competition as a freshman, compared to just 114 minutes as a sophomore. Carter played 1,023 minutes against Division I opponents last year. Williams and Joseph combined for just 159. 

The numbers are staggering, but the numbers are also in the past. Drew and his tight rotation have moved on, giving way to first-year coach Matt Lottich. There's no question that the choice of starting point guard will be Lottich's first big personnel decision. Along with the two returners, freshman Micah Bradford will also be in the mix for considerable playing time. How all three players fit in minutes-wise has yet to be determined. 

"Right now we haven't talked much about rotations," Lottich said. "Everyone is going to get an opportunity to perform. The leash will be a little longer in the non-conference. A lot of spots are wide open right now, a lot of minutes are wide open and there's been a lot of competition which is good."

Williams and Joseph said all the right things during Thursday's media availability session, both preaching teamwork and competition during practice. The pair shared lighthearted fun together while the players were posing for their annual team photograph.

"The big motto is to compete in every practice," Joseph said. "Regardless who is going to play at point for starting, it's a matter of just making each other better."

"Ultimately it's up to Coach Lottich," Williams added. "We have to come in and play hard and compete against each other every day in practice in order to be better; to give ourselves a chance to have the opportunity to grab that starting role or that backup role. It's good for us right now."

Bradford is seemingly the wildcard. The freshman has shined as a scorer in offseason workouts and he's continuing to turn heads during fall practices. Williams has taken Bradford under his wing as has star forward Alec Peters. The 6-foot-2, 150-pound guard is eager to begin his college basketball career, but he's not worried about his role at the moment. 

"I don't worry about that as much as I just want to get better every day," Bradford said. "We want to be great as a team and just stay together."

The Crusaders have two more weeks of practice before a closed scrimmage with Northern Illinois on Oct. 29 and another week before their lone exhibition game against Hillsdale on Nov. 5. 

"We're getting a lot better," Peters said. "There's a lot of little kinks that we need to work through. The players and the coaches, we're pretty happy with how things are going. You want to be better at the end of each week and really at the end of every day. That's the goal in October."

That, and eventually finding a starting point guard.


Paul Oren has been a correspondent reporter for The Times since 2005. A member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, Paul has spent more than 15 years covering Valparaiso basketball.