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At J.C. Smith, it’s like father, like son

Stephen Joyner Sr. can finally make most of his son’s games.

Johnson C. Smith’s longtime men’s basketball coach missed many of Stephen Joyner Jr.’s games when he was a high school point guard at West Charlotte.

Later, he didn’t make it to many Winston-Salem State women’s basketball games when his son was the Rams’ coach from 2010-2012.

But when Joyner Jr. was hired as the Golden Bulls women’s basketball coach last year, it reunited the father-and-son duo for the first time since the son’s brief stint on his dad’s staff.

“If you subscribe to and understand the ‘Wizard of Oz’ principle ‘there’s no place like home,’ if there’s any one coaching position that any one coach wants, it’s the position at the place that they came from,” Joyner Sr. said.

The tandem is a rare father-son combination to coach men’s and women’s teams in the history of the CIAA, which holds its annual conference tournament this week at Time Warner Cable Arena.

After playing for his father at J.C. Smith from 1998-2001, Joyner Jr. returned a decade later to the university, where his father has been the men’s basketball coach for 26 seasons.

Joyner Sr., also the school’s athletic director, has battled with the speculation of nepotism since his son’s hiring last July. And the son has dealt with concerns about being in his father’s large shadow at J.C. Smith.

But Joyner Jr., also known as Little Steve, wouldn’t want to be elsewhere. He also knows where he can find Dad when he needs advice.

“I don’t really think there’s a difference (in coaching),” Joyner Jr., 32, said. “Age is the difference. He’s more mature, laid back, knows how to control his emotions better. I’m still the fiery young gun who would rather be in a jersey than coaching.

“Everything that I’ve been able to accomplish in my life is because of him. He paved the way for me. All credit goes to him. Everything is him.”

Turn to Mom for help

When Joyner Jr. was a freshman at Smith and wasn’t getting the playing time he thought he deserved, he complained to his mom.

“So I came home and he was talking to his mom on the phone, and she said to me, ‘Well, Steve and I want to meet with you about his playing time and starting,’ ” Joyner Sr., 63, recalled. “I said, ‘Tell Little Steve to talk to his coach.’ ”

Little Steve eventually started his senior year, when Smith won the CIAA tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II tournament.

An accounting major, Joyner Jr. had an internship that made him realize he wasn’t meant for a 9-to-5 desk job. He looked at opportunities in athletics, finally joining Livingstone’s basketball staff as a volunteer. His uncle, Edward “Buck” Joyner, was head coach.

“I thought he was trying to get me some valuable experience, but really he was just trying to steal a couple plays from my dad,” Joyner Jr. said jokingly.

Buck Joyner admitted that was “kind of true.” Joyner Sr. had a play that involved motion and high-ball screens, eventually freeing his best shooter for a wide-open shot.

“One of my conditions in giving Little Steve the job was that he give me that play,” Buck Joyner said. “He said, ‘Uncle Buck, I can give you any play you want but that one. My father would kill me.’ ”

The Joyner family has deep basketball roots. Joyner Sr.’s father would drive kids in their Winston-Salem community to local high school games and to the CIAA tournament when it was in Greensboro.

Buck Joyner is now a volunteer at Livingstone. His son, Edward Joyner Jr., has been the men’s basketball coach at Hampton (Va.) since 2009.

Little Steve got his first assistant coaching position in 2002, when former N.C. Central coach Joli Robinson brought him on for four seasons.

“I always told him when I saw him, ‘I’m coming to get you,’ ” said Robinson, now an assistant to Joyner Jr. at J.C. Smith. “The opportunity came so I went and got him.”

After stints at UNC Asheville, Florida A&M and Smith for two seasons, Joyner Jr. accepted his first head coaching job at Winston-Salem State in 2010. In two seasons there, the Rams were 35-21.

Then the women’s job at J.C. Smith opened.

“I thought he had a wonderful opportunity to build something at Winston-Salem State, and he had started so,” Joyner Sr. said. “He had a nice nucleus of talent coming back. It was tough for him to decide to leave Winston-Salem and come to Smith, but I think Smith is the only place he would have left it for.”

Big shoes to fill

In April 2012, Vanessa Taylor left J.C. Smith after 11 seasons to become coach at N.C. Central, now a Division I program that plays in the MEAC. She had been CIAA Coach of the Year three times, led Smith to five CIAA conference tournament championships and five NCAA Division II tournaments.

Little Steve was one of 30 to apply for the job.

As athletic director, Joyner Sr. said he knew questions of nepotism would be raised if his son was hired.

When coupling his coaching experience with his recommendations – including one from Taylor – Joyner Jr. was the man for the job, his father said. School President Ronald Carter made the final decision on hiring the younger Joyner, who is supervised by women’s senior administrator Emerald Fulmore.

“Once I told him I would take the job, my former AD (at Winston-Salem State) Bill Hayes had kind of prepared me for the trials I would have to go through just because of my last name,” said Joyner Jr., who was named coach in July.

The women’s team never had a losing season under Taylor but is 8-17 (5-11 CIAA) entering Tuesday’s opening-round game against Lincoln (Pa.). The Golden Bulls are led by senior guard Brittany Dorsett, who averages 14 points per game.

Joyner Jr. said he believes his team can make a run this week as the fifth seed in the South.

“It’s the first time I’m at the tournament, as a head coach, in my hometown. I’m very excited about it and definitely even more excited for the young ladies on the team,” he said.

Little Steve isn’t a spitting imagine of his father, but Joyner Sr. said he can sometimes see some of himself in his son.

“A lot of his sets are similar to what we run,” Joyner Sr. said. “Some of his mannerisms on the sidelines you can see yourself in there. He’s his own coach, but you can tell he comes out of Johnson C. Smith.”

Most wins in school history

Except for five years at Virginia Union, Joyner Sr. has been at Johnson C. Smith since his freshman year of college. A star point guard from 1969-1973, he became the women’s coach in 1980 and the men’s coach in 1987.

Joyner Sr. is the winningest coach in school history with a 465-281 record. He’s won the conference coach of the year award and the conference tournament three times.

Entering the tournament, Joyner Sr. has the Golden Bulls at 16-10 with a No. 3 seed and hopes of winning it for the first time since 2009. And though there’s no indication he’ll retire soon, he understands the assumption that Little Steve is the coaching heir.

But Joyner Jr. said his interests lie in the women’s game for now.

“People tell me it’d be great to carry it on, but if I had to decide today, and they told me they want me to be the men’s coach next year, I probably wouldn’t do it,” Joyner Jr. said. “He deserves to have his legacy because he’s been here so long.

“He’s given so much of himself, his family, his time to the university, and he never makes me feel that pressure.”

Robinson, the women’s assistant coach, smiled as she recalled Joyner Jr., shortly after his hiring, riding next to his father in a golf cart on campus.

“Every time you see them it’s a moment,” she said. “To see this opportunity where he and his father are together, you don’t see that often.

“When you come into the gym sometimes you’ll see them standing at the scorer’s table carrying on a conversation, and all the time I tell myself, ‘Look at that. That’s awesome.’ ”

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