Being a five-star athlete means you’re the cream of the crop at your particular sport. It means you’re on pace to accomplish all the things you’ve dreamed of since Day 1. Not everyone has that same privilege. But with hard work, determination and a strong passion for your craft, you can position yourself to have a prosperous and successful career.
For 18-year-old Lakewood, Calif., native Josh Christopher, being a star has always been part of the plan. He knows what he’s capable of and he doesn’t shy away from the moment. The Mayfair High School senior has been all about basketball since he was born. It’s in his DNA. It’s all he’s ever known—and for good reason.
Christopher is one of the top-rated players in the 2020 class. He’s a flat-out dog on the court. There’s not much—if anything at all—that he can’t do. His versatility is off the charts. He’s a skilled ballhandler and superbly athletic; he can finish in traffic, knock down contested jump shots and defend the opposing team’s best player. He has a never-ending motor and, most importantly, he’s all about winning. Every loss suffered is taken to heart.
He has a Mamba-like mentality, which makes sense as former NBA star Kobe Bryant is someone he's watched closely of late.
“We’re built kind of the same," he said of Kobe. "He’s well-rounded, explosive at the basket, killer instinct—I think I’ve got that for sure."
Christopher has all the tools to flourish in the new-age era of basketball, and he’s everything a college team would want in a player. He has condensed his list of schools to Michigan, UCLA, Arizona State and Missouri, and he visited Howard University to familiarize himself with one of the many historically black colleges and universities across the country. It was a move that generated a lot of buzz, as five-stars don’t normally go that route. But he and Makur Maker—another top recruit who is a cousin of Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker—both visited the campus this past year to help shift the thinking a bit for highly regarded athletes.
The college Christopher picks will dictate how life turns out for him beyond high school. He understands that. But he’s not rushing the process. He’s focused on what’s in front of him and taking it one day at a time.
“I’m not ready to grow up and get prepared for the real world,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I know the time is coming, and when the time does come, I’ll take on that new life. But I just think for myself, I want to be a kid as long as possible, have fun, go out and just enjoy the moment.”
The 6’5” Christopher isn’t your typical athlete. He has a story that goes beyond what you see on the surface. His family has helped breed an intelligent, clever young man who is mature beyond his years. He has a caring dad, Laron, who has prepped him for this point of life, a mom, Halona, who keeps him grounded, and three older siblings who have all done damage on the basketball court.
It started with Josh’s sister, Paris, who was, as she puts it, “bodying” girls and putting up video game-type numbers in high school. Being the oldest of Laron’s four children, the now-34-year-old set a tone for her siblings to follow, all without even realizing it. She admits that she wasn’t the biggest fan of the game growing up, but sort of fell into it as a kid. Paris had more of a love for volleyball—her mom played in college and it was the sport she was most intrigued by. But after being cut from the middle school team, she decided to give basketball a try. And it worked out—really well.
“I was big, so I was doing people dirty on the court,” she said. “But the reality is, I did not like it. I loved the bond that I had with my teammates—it was a bonding experience for me that I happened to be really good at.”
She wound up becoming a beast in the paint with her 5’11” frame, and she garnered attention from numerous college programs. “I wasn’t in the gym every day like my brothers. I just knew how to put the ball in the hole. But all of my brothers were there the whole time, watching me do this.”
Paris initially wanted to go to college as just a student, not an athlete. So, she decided to remain close to home and attend Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Calif., where there wasn’t an offer on the table. But she walked on to the team and spent a year proving herself all over again before tearing her meniscus as a freshman. That led to her redshirting and eventually putting basketball in the rearview as she shifted her attention to school and college life.
“It was always just fun for me,” Paris said. “But when you go to college it becomes a job. You’re playing for your tuition. It’s tough, and it’s forced on you. And that’s what’s really different. That’s why I’m always telling Josh, ‘Just have fun now.’ Because eventually it becomes a job.”
Paris is 16 years older than Josh, but as he was coming into his own as a young hooper himself, she said there were times she’d beat him one-on-one and Josh would scream out, “She went to Saint Mary’s!” in front of friends to feel less embarrassed by it.
But those experiences only helped shape Josh for what was to come.
Caleb, a freshman guard at Arizona State and someone who Josh has had many one-on-one battles with over the years, is just two years older. They were inseparable growing up, and Josh would always play against older guys while hanging with his brother. So when it came to facing competition in his age group, he would always have an advantage.
“Me and Josh, we did everything together,” Caleb said. “Every little basketball experience and moment we shared with each other. So I’m sick when I can’t see his games [this season].”
The thought of again teaming up with Caleb intrigues Josh quite a bit. It’s one of the biggest reasons Arizona State is on his final list of schools.
“I played with my brother pretty much all my life,” Josh said. “In elementary school, middle school, got two years with him in high school. My brother is my keeper.”
Josh has had to persevere through tough times during his basketball journey. He said he was on the bench a lot during his younger AAU and middle school days. He remembers crying after games because he wasn't getting any playing time and holding up championship-winning trophies that he didn't feel like he earned. That helped light a fire under him and put a massive chip on his shoulder.
Now, Josh said he plays nearly the entire game and has to ask his coach for a breather at times. Funny how quickly the tide can turn.
He and Caleb are best friends. Neither of them will hesitate to tell you that. They both followed in the footsteps of Paris and Patrick, their older brother who spent time playing in the NBA and professionally overseas.
Patrick, now 31, has had an immense impact on their basketball careers. He grew up in Compton, where Laron and his family resided early on before Caleb and Josh were born. Tayshaun Prince, who spent 14 seasons in the NBA and was one of the league’s better defenders, lived across the street. He was a mentor/godbrother to Patrick and became like a family member to the Christophers. Prince's presence alone helped Patrick develop into a well-rounded player.
“I was blossoming into my own as a hooper,” Patrick said. “Then Caleb and Josh got an opportunity to kind of watch me do the same things I watched Tayshaun do.”
Patrick attended the University of California, where he spent four years and took home first-team All-Pac-10 honors as both a junior and senior. He averaged 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds his senior season and worked his way onto an NBA roster after fighting for spots while playing on Summer League or G League teams. He appeared in a few regular-season games for the Utah Jazz before eventually winding up overseas and suffering an unfortunate knee injury that ended his playing career. But his heart, grind and grit were well-respected throughout the family. His journey was inspiring for them all.
“Pat has the blueprint,” Laron said of his son. “And the blueprint is hard work.”
That hard work was passed on to Caleb and Josh. Watching their older brother play on the biggest stage served as motivation for them both, and is something Josh remembers vividly.
“I got to watch [Patrick] play in the NBA, whether it was a full season, a full game or 10 years, it doesn’t matter. The fact that I got to watch my brother play in an NBA arena and score in an NBA arena, I won’t forget that.”
Josh is thankful to be the baby of the family. He knows it has molded him into the person he is today, and the person he is continually evolving into.
“All my siblings played Division I basketball. I think the whole basketball thing is in my blood. I think I got it easy. I was able to watch all of my siblings early, I got to play on teams with my brother Caleb when I was in the fourth grade, he was in the sixth grade. Thanks to them just for allowing me to kind of observe them and build my own identity.”
Paris is now a kindergarten teacher. She's married and recently had her first child. She is the first of Laron’s kids to have a little one, and the boys—Josh, Caleb and Patrick—are already trying to speak basketball into her daughter’s future.
“As soon as she was born, they were like, ‘Oh, my God, she’s gonna be a footer.' I’m like, 'No, she’s not hooping, at all,'” she said while laughing.
“But she’ll probably end up hooping anyway," Paris added.
It wouldn’t be a surprise. There’s a basketball foundation set within the Christophers. They have a true understanding of one another. And even though Paris and Patrick have a different mom than Caleb and Josh, the love continues to permeate throughout the family. And a lot of that can be attributed to Laron, who has helped keep everything intact.
“They always put us first,” Paris said, referring to her parents. “The way that I’ve seen my dad be a father is just admirable.”
Laron played a little ball when he was growing up as well, just not on the level of his kids. But he’s been the type of father figure that many young athletes—and kids in general—would love to have in their corner. He does whatever he can to ensure they succeed.
“My main focus is trying to get my children to the space of life that they dream about and that they desire,” Laron said. “I’ve really been focusing on that and making sure this life of theirs is beautiful.”
Knowing the national hype is steadily increasing for Josh, who was named a McDonald's All-American, Laron gets asked on numerous occasions how pleased he is with his youngest son’s maturation. He tells them, “No, I’m grateful. Being proud of him is about me, being grateful for him is about him.”
Though Laron and the family are allowing Josh to make his own decisions (like which college he prefers to attend) and giving him a chance to grow into adulthood, Josh credits his dad for keeping him level-headed along the way.
“Right now I’m at a critical point in my career, even at 18 still in high school," Josh said. "He sits in my corner, answers a lot of phone calls, almost like a businessman. He’s been playing that role, handling the business aspect while I get to dribble a basketball and put the basketball in the hoop.”
But Josh is more than just a hooper. He is also an extremely popular high schooler. His fashion sense is admired by his peers, and he has a mean sneaker collection.
“For a long time, people didn’t know I liked basketball,” Josh said while snickering. “They thought I just played it to look good.”
It’s one of the many similarities Josh shares with his brother Patrick, who has always been a fashionista himself and recently launched a luxury outerwear clothing brand called Sloan and Bennett.
“Sometimes you have the guys who have all the bells and whistles, those guys who go crazy in layup lines and then in the game they don’t do anything," Patrick said. "He backs up everything in his persona. He’s going to look like he plays. That’s a cool thing about him as well.”
“He’s swaggy as all get out,” Laron said of Josh while laughing. “I call it swaggy, but they call it drip nowadays.”
Josh also acquired his nickname from being the younger brother of Patrick, who is referred to as PatFish. So Josh is known by friends as JayGup, since a guppy is a small fish. It’s his handle on Instagram and Twitter, where he has strong followings.
JayGup has become a fan favorite. He packs out gyms and has had celebrities such as Kevin Durant, Quavo and Ja Morant all recently make appearances to watch him in action. But the attention doesn’t make Josh bashful one bit. He lives for those moments when the lights are shining brightest.
“I’ve kind of been blessed to get the spotlight early. There’s so many 17- and 18-year-old superstars now, whether you wanna believe it or not. I think I’ve done a good job of remaining a kid and doing what I’ve been doing,” Josh said. “When I didn’t have the spotlight, I wanted it. Now that I’ve got it, I embrace it.”
Due to his dad’s presence, his strong family ties, the advice he gets from Paris, Patrick and Caleb, the structure he takes on from his mom, and the acumen that he naturally possesses, Josh is remaining humble throughout it all. It's something that his dad continuously preaches.
But his ultimate objective is clear, and it's something he's fixated on accomplishing.
“As soon as I picked up a basketball I’ve always been striving for greatness," he said. "I can’t remember a time when the NBA wasn’t a goal of mine.”
With the path that he's on, and the support system he has along the way, that goal is definitely within arm's reach.