Paul Nazigan made an important statement on a recent installment of the ASOR basketball podcast regarding Joseph Venzant, and it’s a statement that I think is worth unpacking. “Naz,” as he is affectionately called in the Liberty University athletics-sphere, reminded fans that we cannot take for granted the unsung hero role that JV plays every night for the Flames.

I have been planning on covering Joseph’s defensive prowess for the past two weeks but wanted to get my analysis in order for a proper overlook of the athletic guard. The Flames have completed 10 conference games, and are right at the midway point of the season. I think this serves as a solid rest stop in the season to admire the gritty and hard work of Joseph. 

Venzant plays the crucial and often overlooked role of “hustle guy.” The hustle guy is beloved by every teammate. He earns the right to speak more than any other player on the court because he is often one of the last to complain. He simply does his work and goes home. He is a lunch pail guy. He’s not there to impress you. He doesn’t care if you like him; only that you respect him. He is “about it.” What do I mean by that? He is not going to back down from a physical confrontation and he’s not intimidated. This is the guy you want on your team more than anyone because he is not taking your shots. He will let you do the scoring and he will do the grinding. Joseph has gladly stepped into this role, and that is the reason I think he will leave as one of the most respected Flames of all time. 

Let’s take a deeper dive into JV’s defensive and rebounding performance this season:

Joseph has said himself that he is taking a more “team first” approach to the pack line this year. It’s kind of ironic to think that a player like Venzant is not team oriented enough, but there is logic to JV’s statement. The packline is not a defensive system that thrives on risky matchup defense. JV’s basketball IQ is exceptional for a college basketball player, so he is not likely to make bad reads. However, his aggression can bite him at times, if he is not careful. That adjustment has been barely felt this season as his steal averages have dipped ever so slightly. But, watching the games this season it’s clear he is more interested with his positioning and ability to support the overall scheme of the team. I’ve noticed less electric steals, but more consistent stops from the athletic defender. 

Additionally, Joseph’s rebounding numbers have been trending upwards. He’s already had three games where he reached double-digit rebounding. I’ve said it before, but this is an exceptional feat for a guard/wing. Joseph has taken on a unique role this year, ball hawking offensive rebounds, and he is really good at it! Getting extra possessions can make an immense difference in closely contested games. 

The last aspect of JV’s defense I want to highlight is his matchups. Most nights, Venzant is tasked with taking on the opposing team’s best scorer. It seems like each game JV rises to the occasion. I can think of one time this season where I would say he was bested in conference, and the Flames lost that competition. That doesn’t mean Venzant is blamed for that loss. It simply shows the margin of error at this level. Isaiah Thompson of FGCU was able to get to his spots and score against the Flames, but the moment JV was matched on Thompson, he was neutralized. If we track JV’s primary matchup each night, you will most likely find a poor shot percentage and/or low scoring numbers. Each evening, Joseph is neutralizing a certain component of the opponents scoring. Because the Flames play the packline, the one-on-one matchup analysis is not as clean cut. However, Joseph is basically making it difficult on his original assignment each evening, and then supporting his teammates given screening and help situations. 

This is a simple overview of the quiet exceptionalism of Joseph’s hard work. It’s easy to take defensive role players for granted. It’s work that isn’t as exciting as the flashiness of scoring, but it is equally important. Without stops, the Flames cannot contend. Their system thrives on knocking down the three and playing aggressive, cohesive, and constricting defense. I’m excited to see the progression of JV in this role and to watch him become a better and better defender each year. Don’t forget to show love on social media when our guys have a great night in something other than the scoring column.