They call him “The Fixer.” Mostly because that’s what B.J. Joseph does.
In fact, ever since leading Cape Henlopen High School to a state title as a player in 1976 and capping his collegiate career at Wilmington College, that’s what B.J. Joseph has always done — taken down-on-their luck programs, such as Milford and Laurel, from playoff-plagued to playoff-perennial.
Now in his second year as the head coach at Indian River High School, Joseph is at it again, recently earning his 200th career win and getting ready to take the Indians to the state tournament after inheriting a senior-depleted roster in 2016.
“It just means you’ve been around for a little while,” Joseph said of the milestone, with a laugh. “When you start off taking over a program that’s down, it’s tough to build it back up, but I think we’re finally turning things around here.”
While the Indians earned their 12th win of the season against Joseph’s former squad at Laurel on Tuesday, Feb. 17 — all but solidifying a ticket to the state tournament — the milestone victory actually came against Sussex Academy on Feb. 3.
“We were happy for him,” said sophomore forward Jamier Felton of being a part of the 200-team. “He’s a great man. We have some ups and downs, but we always find a way to pull it out with him pushing us. He tells us every day that we’ve gotta give 100 percent. We’ve got to push each other.”
“We wanted to win that one for coach. It motivated us even more,” said freshman point guard K.J. Custis. “We work hard for him.”
The last time the Indians made the tournament was 2014, when a squad led by then-senior Javeon “B.B.” Holland ended the school’s 16-year playoff drought and returned the school to the tournament for the first time since 1997.
Holland’s younger brother, sophomore forward Antonio Jones, is glad to have Joseph at the helm while he helps lead the Indians back to the playoffs for the first time since.
“He’s a great coach,” said Jones. “You can see what he’s done. He’s turned the program around.”
Some of Joseph’s former players through the years are now even going up against him as coaches in the Henlopen Conference, including Delmar head coach Shawn Phillips. Phillips played for Joseph at Laurel and recently asked him to help him coach in this year’s Blue-Gold All-Star game.
“I thought it would exciting for us to be on the same bench again,” said Phillips. “B.J. was a great coach to play for. He let us as players do what we do best and never tried to put us in a system where we wouldn’t be successful. He listened to us on what we like and dislike from a basketball standpoint, and his door was always open, even for other things beside basketball.”
Earlier this season, the former player and coach had gone to double-overtime when the Indians pulled out a 67-64 victory on Jan. 26.
“Coaching against B.J., you know his teams are going to be well-prepared,” Phillips said. “You know they’re going to play hard until the game is over.”
Through the years there have been plenty of equally memorable games, but Joseph cited his favorite memory as a first-round playoff victory over St. Mark’s High School that went to quadruple-overtime while coaching for Phillips’ alma-mater at Laurel.
As the No. 22 seed in the tournament, the Joseph-led Bulldogs went all the way to the quarterfinals that year before being knocked out by St. Elizabeth.
He’d go on to coach Laurel for eight years before taking over as the head coach at Milford and turning the Bucs around in similar fashion.
That’s where he’d stay for nine seasons, until his mother passed away at the age of 88 in 2014, and Joseph decided to hang up his whistle to take care of his father, who was battling dementia.
When his father passed away later that year, however, after a one-year hiatus from basketball, Joseph decided to return to coaching and do what he does best when the opening at IR opened up in 2015.
After some bumps in reinventing the culture during his first year at the helm, he’s since taken the Indians from 5-15 to 12-7, headed into their final game of the season against St. Thomas More.
“He’s helped bring new life to our program through his experience and knowledge,” said IR Athletic Director Todd Fuhrmann of The Fixer’s immediate impact at the school.
While Joseph aims to continue to bring the program at IR back to its former state-championship glory and has no plans of retiring anytime soon, when he does eventually decide to hang it up again after a life spent on the courts, it probably won’t ever be for the final time.
After all, no matter how successful a program becomes, there’s always more fixing to be done.
“Who knows, if I retire to Florida or something, maybe I’ll coach down there,” he said with a laugh. “You never know.”