Cal State Bakersfield sophomore guard Jarkel Joiner wants to prove a point.
To whom and what exactly that point is can be complex and change, though.
He wants show the college coaches and programs that didn’t offer him scholarships while he was in high school that they made a mistake. He wants to display his ability to be a “great” basketball player to “the world.”
And maybe most significantly, he’s tried to prove to himself that he is “good enough.”
Even as Joiner was the fourth-highest scoring player in the country as a senior in high school with a 36.5 points per game average, started 27 games as a freshman at CSUB and led the Western Athletic Conference with 18.6 points in league contests this year, he doubted his game.
His remedy has always been to work.
Joiner and the Roadrunners will enter the WAC Tournament as the No. 5 seed. CSUB (16-14, 7-9 WAC) will take on No. 4 Texas-Rio Grande Valley (18-15, 9-7) at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
“You want to strive for perfect, but there’s no such thing,” Joiner said. “... I try to prove I belong every day. In the league. In the world.”
College basketball was never a thought for Joiner until he was a junior in high school. Only by his senior year did he really believe he had the talent to make it. He had played varsity at Oxford (Mississippi) High School since he was a freshman, but the summer before his senior season was when the attention on Joiner grew.
He switched from a “low-level” AAU team, Joiner’s father Stacy said, to teams on the Nike and Adidas circuits. He learned from former NBA all-star Penny Hardaway as part of Team Penny in the Elite Youth Basketball League.
When Joiner saw players he played with and against getting offers, he had questions. He knew he wasn’t one of the top guards in terms of recruiting interest. Joiner needed to get bigger and stronger. He was late joining the elite AAU scene. And because Ole Miss, Joiner’s hometown Southeastern Conference team, never extended an offer, it kept other college teams away, Oxford coach Drew Tyler said.
“Do you think I can play college basketball?” Joiner would ask Tyler.
Tyler was honest with Joiner about the latter’s 6-foot-1 frame and areas he needed to improve on the court.
In response, Joiner went to work.
His senior year, Joiner always left the gym on 10 straight made 3-pointers. When Joiner’s father showed up for an evening game one time, Stacy Joiner realized his son had been practicing on Oxford’s court for about 11 hours that day already.
“Is he on a campaign to prove people wrong?” Tyler said. “He’s on a campaign to make people notice him and sometimes that is in the spotlight and sometimes that’s behind the scenes.”
Joiner played every minute of Oxford basketball as a senior because he “worked for it,” Tyler said. He scored 58 points in a showcase against Brighton from Tennessee, earning a standing ovation from his opponent’s fans. Oxford’s crosstown rival put two defenders on Joiner for an entire game — not just a box-and-1. Joiner scored 34 points anyway.
He was the most valuable player of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game and the runner-up for the Gatorade Mississippi Boys Basketball Player of the Year award, according to Tyler.
Naturally, Joiner’s play drew interest during his final season. But by that point, he was already signed with CSUB. Roadrunners head coach Rod Barnes had offered Joiner before Joiner’s junior season.
Stacy Joiner, a barber, had cut Barnes’ and Barnes’ children’s hair for years. Jarkel's first basketball coaches were current CSUB Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Wallace and women’s basketball associate head coach Xavier Johnson.
Barnes touted Joiner as a player fans would specifically come to Roadrunners games to see. Joiner scored 23 points in his debut and 20 at UCLA during his freshman season. He started 27 games but not the final three.
Joiner ended the year not entirely sure of his play. He doesn’t know why.
When class wasn’t in session this summer, Joiner took about 1,000 shots per day — usually broken up into three different workouts. When classes started back up, the team had a competition to see who could get up the most shots. Joiner won by a significant margin.
By the start of this season, Joiner felt different.
“I feel like I’ve overcome the doubt part in my game,” Joiner said. “I believe more. I have more confidence. That don’t creep in no more — the doubt of how good I am or how good I can be. That don’t creep in no more because I know how much work I’ve put in.”
To Joiner, basketball is a drug. It gives him extreme highs and lows, though he tries to stay level. The rush of a feeling he had the first time he played was unlike any other he had experienced.
During workouts with CSUB assistant Jeff Conarroe, Joiner will stop to say “I love this. I love the game. It’s so fun.”
But it’s also business. Joiner has the belief that on the court, you’re killing or you’re being killed. He conducts every workout and every drill as a competition, just like an actual game.
And it’s a “never-ending goal” of his to prove his greatness to himself and everyone else.
“Kill anything in my way,” Joiner said.