If there is one thing you need to know about freshman guard Justin Joyner, it is that he possesses an unparalleled drive to win.

“He was one of the most competitive players in the league,” junior guard Alex Harris said. “In practice, he would dive on the floor and get burned even if we had games the next day. It was refreshing to see that kind of tenacity.”

Following a 32-1 record in his senior year as a Spartan at De La Salle High School in Antioch, Calif., Joyner did not start the season as UCSB’s point guard. In fact, it wasn’t until the Gauchos came away with a historic road victory against UNLV in which he dished out seven assists, that Joyner began to turn heads.

“I don’t think a lot of people expected me to play many minutes this year, but I hope I’ve affected people with my play,” Joyner said. “I just try to gain my teammates’ respect through hard work.”

Prior to the start of conference play, all the focus seemed to be on Harris, who was consistently scoring over 20 points per game while young Joyner was quietly developing into the team’s general on the court. In Santa Barbara’s final game of 2006, Joyner notched a career-high 10 assists against Cal State Fullerton and would go on to eventually lead the team in that category with 81, the third most assists made by a freshman in school history.

“He’s really embraced his role and really helped the team,” Harris said. “He’s a natural passer and a much better playmaker. That makes me able to be a more natural scorer because he could create open shots for me. We’ve really created a strong one-two punch.”

In addition to distributing the ball this season, Joyner showed his own flashes of scoring brilliance. His best performance came against Northridge in January when he dropped 15 points on the Matadors. Then, two games later on the road at UC Davis, Joyner poured in seven of his 12 points during a Gaucho run to open the second half and finished five-of-nine from the field, including two-of-four from beyond the three-point arc. That was the third time he had cracked double figures in as many games and the fourth such occasion of the season.

“He did an incredible job as a point guard this year,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “He learned quickly, and it was great for him to come in and take control of the team because he freed up other guys and his development allowed guys like Al [Harris] to play their natural positions. He’s an exceptionally competitive player and works really hard at his game.”

At the conclusion of the regular season, Joyner was chosen to the Big West All-Freshman Team along with fellow guard James Powell. Joyner started in 26 of UCSB’s 28 games and he likely would have started them all had it not been for a flu that limited his playing time in mid-December and a strained hamstring that kept him entirely out of one game. He averaged 4.8 points per game and led the team in assists in eight contests during the season. Perhaps most impressively, Joyner finished third in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, a sign of maturity for such a young player. Joyner also contributed defensively, pacing the team with 36 steals, the second highest total by a freshman in school history.

“Everyone’s so much stronger [in college] and you can’t get away with as much,” Joyner said. “Being small, I have to make up for that in effort. Next year, I want to be the best defender I can possibly be.”

Looking ahead to next season, the future is certainly bright for the Gauchos’ latest floor general.

“You know, coaches say the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores,” Harris said. “[Joyner] has been through it now and he knows what to expect. I expect a big year out of him.”