When you’re a high school athlete, you want nothing more than to be able to play at the collegiate level. It’s something that many dream of and few accomplish.
It’s even rarer to play for your hometown school.
It’s a fitting sentiment when you learn about Carencro’s Joe Charles, a 6’7″ forward who has one of the more versatile skillsets in the Sun Belt Conference.
Before Charles was wearing the Vermilion and White, he was rocking the navy and gold of Carencro High School, playing under well-respected coach Chris Kovatch. While with Carencro, he won a state championship in 2018 and was an All-State selection as well as District 3-5A MVP.
“Playing at Carencro was big for me,” Charles said. “Being recruited from my hometown is really a big thing to me, knowing that I can play in my own backyard in front of my friends, coaches, and family. It really means a lot.”
After high school, Charles didn’t take long to make his mark on the Cajuns basketball program, appearing in 24 games during the season with four starts. For the year, he averaged 3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and nearly one assist per game, but even though the numbers didn’t jump off the page in year one, everyone who has watched him play knows he is special.
“Joe possesses an innate ability for the game,” Chris Kovatch, Carencro’s head basketball coach, said. “His mind is always a play ahead of what is actually happening in real-time. I’ve coached a lot of all-state players, a lot of guys who have gone on to play in college including La’Ryan Gary and Patrick Richard, but Joseph Charles is the best defensive player that I ever had the privilege to coach.”
It’s that defensive nature that gives Charles the ability to play as a guard and a forward, guarding anybody the opponent puts on the court. But “Carencro Joe” showed his defensive ability very early on.
“It was obvious a month into his freshman year (at Carencro) that he would find a way to get on the court early on,” Kovatch said. “He was about 6 foot four as a freshman. We worried about his ability to stay with older, bigger, stronger players as a freshman; he found a way into the starting lineup nonetheless.”
“In the third game of the year, before we had gotten to halftime against Scotlandville and their McDonald’s All-American Javonte Smart, Joe had already blocked two of his shots. He was a key ingredient in our team defense that night, and we held a guy who averaged 40+ a game to eight points on the night.”
Now playing for the Cajuns, Charles has become a favorite, especially among the student section that gave him the “Carencro Joe” mantra.
“It’s fun to interact with them,” Charles said. “Hearing them chant my name, cheering for where I went to high school and things like it, it really means a lot.”
After a fast start in 2023, Charles has joined an elite company at Louisiana. He has had a double-double in each of the first two games of the 2023-2024 season, becoming just the third player since 2000 to do that, including former Sun Belt Player of the Year, G-lEague All-Star, and Korean Basketball League MVP Shawn Long.
I really didn’t know about it until they posted it,” Charles told me in an exclusive interview. “It shows you that the hard work pays off. Then, you see the way Shawn Long did it, it’s special. Coach (Marlin) tells me I need to be like him sometimes.”
Charles was an integral part of last year’s run to the NCAA Tournament and winning the Sun Belt Conference Championship, and with key guys like Themus Fulks, Kentrell Garnett, and Kobe Julien back with him, the chemistry is strong for 2023-2024.
“Our chemistry is great,” Charles said. “Guys like Themus, Kobe, Kentrell, we played last year we know each other strengths and weaknesses. We know it will be like on the court and things like that. The other guys and the newcomers have been picking up from that. We’re going to be clicking a lot.”
Charles has exploded on the scene with the Cajuns, and his former head coach isn’t surprised.
“Not surprised at all that he’s having that level of success,” Kovatch said. “One of the funny things is that the casual observer in the stands does not even realize all of the things that Joe does on the court for the Cajuns. He changes so many shots, passes, and drives with his length, anticipation, and effort that people attempt against them. The casual observer just sees opposing players making one decision, not realizing that the reason behind that is their first choice had already been altered by “Carencro Joe”.
“He’s always been an extremely hard worker, a selfless player,” Kovatch continued. “Sometimes to a fault, and gifted by God; two of those things are things that we stress with every single kid in our program, but when a guy of that caliber is able to do that for a team, it’s a game-changer. Thus, his production for Coach Marlin and the Cajuns is of no surprise at all.”