The Billy Lange Era of SJU MBB: Laying the Foundation of a Contender

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The Story of Billy Lange and St. Joes Basketball

The Billy Lange era of St. Joe’s Men’s Basketball has been like the stock market. Think about it. After the controversial firing of Phil Martelli following the 2018-2019, the Hawks stock was plummeting. Shortly after the firing, Billy Lange was hired. Lang had previous head coaching experience at the collegiate level but most recently, he was an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Hawks stock began to rise very slightly. However, things were not all up from there. Shortly after the hiring of Coach Lange, a couple players announced they would be leaving the program they had committed to play for under Phil Martelli. The move that hurt the most was the departure of rising sophomore point guard, Jarden Bynum. During his freshman year, Bynum looked very promising, averaging 11.3 points and 4.5 assists per game and won Atlantic-10 conference rookie of the week two times. In addition to Bynum leaving, the Hawks also lost their two star players, Charlie Brown Jr and Lamarr Kimble. Brown Jr entered the NBA draft, went undrafted, and signed a contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Kimble left the Hawks to be the point guard of the Louisville Cardinals. The Hawks also lost the commitment of Hakim Hart, who would eventually flip his commitment to Maryland.

Losing the three best players on your team before you get to coach your first game is not an ideal way to start your tenure as head coach. However, he did have some solid players returning in Taylor Funk, Anthony Longpre, and University of Delaware transfer guard, Ryan Daly. Because of NCAA transfer rules, Ryan Daly had to sit out the 2018-2019 season, his first season with St. Joes. Coach Lange immediately got to work trying to replace the departures from the previous season. Billy picked up commitments from Chereef Knox, Rahmir Moore, and Cameron Brown, and transfers Myle Douglas (UCF), Greg Foster Jr (Gonzaga) and Dennis Ashley (Maine). Billy also picked up a commitment from a 2020 prospect in Jordan Hall.

We will play anyone, anywhere, anytime” – St Joseph’s Head Coach, Billy Lange

St. Joseph’s looked like a team being held together by band-aids. Before the season started, it was announced that the Hawks would be competing in the Charleston Classic, a tournament headlined by Miami, Florida, and Xavier. They also announced that they would be playing an out of conference game against the UCONN Huskies. Billy Lange was showing that he’s not afraid to play the big names of college basketball. 

Coach Lange’s first game was home at Hagan Arena against the Bradley Braves. It was a close game, but the Hawks and Billy came away with a 86-81 victory, and most importantly, Lange’s first win as head coach of St. Joe’s. The Hawks dropped the next game against Old Dominion and then traveled up to Connecticut to take on the Huskies of UCONN for a nationally televised game. The Hawks started off hot and never looked back, upsetting UCONN with a 96-87 victory. The Billy Lange era was off to a great start. Sadly, this was the best they would look for the rest of the season. The Hawks almost upset Florida, but other than that, they only picked up one more win before conference play started, against William and Mary. Taylor Funk would get hurt and was eligible to receive a medical redshirt, giving him an extra year of eligibility, but he would have to sit out the rest of the season. The Hawks struggled when conference play started and Billy Lange would not pick up his first Atlantic-10 win until February 18th in a come from behind win against Davidson. In the meantime, the Hawks picked up a commitment from Swedish Forward, Anton Jansson and a transfer wing, in Dahmir Bishop, who was a highly recruited player before he committed to Xavier.   

St. Joseph’s season ended with a loss to George Mason in the first round of the Atlantic-10 tournament before COVID even had the chance to shut the NCAA tournament down. They ended the season with a 6-26 record, and only won two conference games. Some may label Coach Lange’s first season a bust. At a glance, it may appear that way, but there were some bright spots. Ryan Daly looked like a bonafid scorer, ranking 1st in points per game in the A-10 and 21st in the country. Cameron Brown also had a solid freshman season averaging 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds. In addition to the emergences of Daly and Brown, freshman Rahmir Moore also provided some solid contributions off the bench, especially on the defensive end. Moore’s impact of the game will not always appear in the box score; however, Rahmir is not afraid to guard any player on the floor and he shows some of the most hustle out of anyone on the team.

Hawk Hill is an incredible basketball community with some definite parallels to my high school program. A storied tradition. A legacy of excellence. Toughness, pride and passion. People who do things differently and aren’t afraid to take chances.” -St Joseph’s guard, Jack Forrest

At the end of every season, NCAA coaches are faced with departures, whether that be through graduation or the transfer portal. During the offseason, the Hawks lost Chereef Knox (transfer to Coppin State), Toliver Freeman (graduation), Lorenzo Edwards (graduate transfer to College of Charleston), Dennis Ashley (graduation), and Greg Smith (graduation). Billy Lange was tasked with replacing these 5 players. He had already picked up 2 commitments earlier this season in Bishop and Jansson. COVID-19 had a big impact on the recruiting of players as these prospects were no longer able to go on an official visit to the school and the team. The players would be forced to take a self guided, unofficial tour and meet with the coaches virtually. Luckily for Lange, he already had Jordan Hall’s commitment from last summer. Part of being a college basketball coach is the constant recruiting of players, even during the season, so filling out the roster came slightly easier to Lange, than it would to most other coaches. At the beginning of the pandemic, Lange picked up his second commitment from the 2020 class in Jadrian Tracey. A couple days later, Lange picked up a commitment through the transfer portal from Columbia’s Jack Forrest. For Forrest, it was about returning home, as he grew up right down the road at Lower Merion High School. When Forrest committed, he had this to say about St. Joseph’s, “Hawk Hill is an incredible basketball community with some definite parallels to my high school program. A storied tradition. A legacy of excellence. Toughness, pride and passion. People who do things differently and aren’t afraid to take chances.” Because Forrest was a transfer, he was expected to have to sit out his first year with the Hawks, while Bishop was expected to miss the first half of the season.

Another challenge that came with the pandemic was scheduling. Coaches and Athletic Directors across the country were not even sure if there would be a season, so scheduling matters were put on hold for a couple months. Eventually, after the start of the college football season, it was announced that there would be a season. It was now a mad scramble to schedule opponents and coaches had to consider that some teams may have to put their season temporarily on hold if their team was to get struck with the corona virus. Billy Lange decided he wanted to get his young team some exposure to some of the best teams in the country, starting with announcing his team would be competing in the Fort Myers Tip Off MTE (multi team event) and will be playing against Kansas and Auburn. Billy Lange was not afraid to play anyone, and the pandemic was going to lead to some weird matchups and cancellations, but Billy Lange had no fear and said “We’ll play anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

Before the season started, the NCAA started granting transfers, who were expected to sit out for half or the entire season, eligibility waivers, meaning they could play immediately. About a month before the Hawk’s first game, Dahmir Bishop tweeted out that he had received one of these waivers and would be eligible to play before this season. Everyone anticipated that Jack Forrest would be getting a waiver as well, but as the season grew closer, it never came. Six days before their first game, Forrest finally received his waiver and was now eligible to play for his hometown team.

The Hawks first game of the season came against the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers were a team who was just in the final four in 2019, and were looking to get back there in the 2020 season before it came to a halt. It was safe to say, the Hawks would be up against a hungry Auburn team. Expectations for St. Joseph’s were not very high from the national media’s perspective, and even entered the game as 8.5 point underdogs. The Hawks came out of the gates swinging. Not every shot was falling, but it did not matter because of the volume of shots they were taking. St. Joseph’s entered halftime down eight, shooting 14-35 (5-17 from 3). The Hawks were giving the Tigers a competitive game, and in the second half, Auburns lead began to shrink. The Hawks tied the game up and were now going to overtime with a reigning final four team. Overtime proved to be too much for the Hawks. They ended up losing 96-91. Yes, this game would show up as a loss on the record, but it did not feel like one. St Joe’s was lead by Taylor Funk, who had a game high, 28 points. They played extremely well on the offensive end, and it seemed like if they could fix some beginning go the season errors, the Hawks would be a team to fear in the A-10.

St. Joseph’s entered their next game against a blue-blood team in the Kansas Jayhawks. Once again, St. Joseph’s were the underdogs. St. Joes entered halftime of this game, again, down by eight. However, Kansas’s size and athleticism ended up being too much of a difference maker, and they pulled away, winning the game 94-72. You can be disappointed that St. Joes lost these games, but to say you expected them to win them would be silly. We would all love to see our team win but the way they played in those two games against two of the nations best teams at the time is nothing to be ashamed of.

Following the game with Kansas, St. Joe’s saw an opportunity to schedule a game against Seton Hall. The game would be nationally televised, just like the first two, and would be held at “Bubbleville” in the Mohegan Sun Arena. However, the Hawks would soon find out that a member of the team got the corona virus and lead to the team having to put their season a hold for a bit. Because of this, the Hawks games against Bradley and Temple were canceled, and their game against Villanova was postponed. The Hawks next scheduled game was another nationally televised game against Tennessee. It was clear this was not the same St. Joe’s we saw before the shutdown, and they lost the game 102-66. This would be their last out of conference game before A-10 play began, and the hope was the Hawks could turn it around and get their first win of the season.

The Hawk’s first game of A-10 play started against VCU, which they lost 80-64. This was a disappointing start to conference play, but something was missing on the Hawks. They were without one of their best players, if not their best player, in Ryan Daly. Without Daly, St. Joe’s offense takes a huge hit and some younger players would need to step up. Sadly, Daly’s offensive output could not be replaced the Hawks would drop their next two. There was a bit of a gap in the schedule, desperate to pick up their first win on the season, Billy Lange found out Albany was available to play, they scheduled a game. The Hawks managed to come away victorious with a 67-64 game that should not have been close. It was clear the Hawk’s missed Daly, and no one was managing to fill his shoes.

The Hawks would drop their next six, bringing their season total to 1-14. This was not what St. Joseph’s expected after such a promising start to the season. Then, the team was hit with another COVID pause, forcing 5 conference games to be canceled. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise because the Hawks could not lose anymore games and in their next game, Ryan Daly would be back.

Daly’s return came on February 20th with only 3 games left in the regular season, the first of which being against city rival, La Salle. Daly wasted no time getting back into form, dropping 30 points on La Salle in an electrifying 91-82 overtime win, where Jordan Hall had his best game of the season, posting a 22-12-10 triple double. The Hawks would go on to upset both Dayton and Richmond, closing the regular season out on a 3 game win streak, bringing their season win total to 4.

St. Joseph’s would enter the A-10 tournament as 13 seed and will face off against 12 seed La Salle, again. La Salle wanted revenge after the Hawks walked out of their last matchup with a win. The Hawks did not want to give them that satisfaction and walked away from a hard fought battle against the Explorers with a 72-66 win. Because this game was an early round matchup, it had one of the earliest tip-offs of a college basketball game this season, at 11 am EST. This early tip-off intrigued sports gamblers so many tuned in to watch the game. Here, they were introduced to Ryan Daly. At the end of the game, Daly secured the win with a deep three at the end of the shot clock and the shot went viral across the internet.

The Hawk’s second round game would come against the 5 seeded UMass Minutemen. Hoping to continue his heroics from the last couple games, Daly was anxious to get this one going. Sadly, the Hawk’s magic had run out, and they dropped the game to the minutemen by a final score 100-66, ending the 2020-2021 campaign for the St. Joseph’s Hawks with a final record of 5-15 in a crazy year.

So, where does this all leave the Hawks now? Well, the Hawks are losing Daly. This will be a huge blow as Daly has been one of the best Hawks we’ve seen in awhile on Hawk Hill. Daly does have an extra year of eligibility left, due to COVID-19, but he is deciding to forgo that year, and turn professional. In addition to Daly’s departure, the Hawks are losing Myles Douglas (transfer, undecided), Anthony Longpre (graduation), Greg Foster Jr. is rumored to not return, it is likely he’ll transfer, and most recently announced, the transfer that will hurt the Hawks the most, Jordan Hall. Jordan Hall’s freshman year on Hawk Hill was one to be remembered. He played way beyond the expectations of a freshman. Hall was likely to be the heir to Ryan Daly’s thrown on Hawk Hill. Hall’s transfer was not expected. As of a month ago, he had no intentions to leave St. Joseph’s; however, Hall decided for personal reasons, it would be in his best interest to leave the Philadelphia area. Although it is sad he is leaving, it is important to remember somethings are bigger than sports. I would like to wish Jordan the best in all his future endeavors, and hope to watch him in the NBA in a few years.

With all the departures, there are incoming players as well! Billy Lange has already added four players to the roster for next season, including transfer big men, Charles Coleman (ECU) and Ejike Obinna (Vanderbilt). These two transfers add some much needed size to the roster. The Hawks were often out rebounded and beaten in the post, so hopefully with the addition of these two, that will change. St. Joe’s also picked up commitments from guard, Erik Reynolds and forward, Kasper Klaczek. Reynolds should be able to add some volume scoring to the lineup and be able to create his own shot. Klaczek, on the other hand, is a very athletic forward. Look for him to be running in transition looking for lobs at the hoop, slashing to the rim to lay it up, and hustle on defense. Klaczek has also been working on improving his jump shot. With these 4 additions, the Hawks roster should look a little like this next season: Dahmir Bishop (Jr. G), Cameron Brown (Jr. G), Anton Jansson (So. F/C), Rahmir Moore (Jr. G), Jadrian Tracey (So. G), Jack Forrest (Jr. G), Taylor Funk (RS Sr. F), Charles Coleman (Jr. C), Ejike Obinna (Gr Sr. C), Erik Reynolds (Fr. G), and Kacper Klaczek (Fr. F).

So what do we have to look forward to in the future, and why should we not give up hope on Billy Lange and “The Story” of the Saint Joseph’s Hawks? For starters, there is a great mix of experience and youth on next years roster. Lange has had to work with some very young teams in his tenure so far, he finally has a team that consists of players he has brought in, besides Taylor Funk, and fit his mold of basketball. The aforementioned, Taylor Funk, should expect to see an expanded role in next years team, with Daly’s departure. The team finally has two true centers, something that I have not seen the Hawks have since I arrived at St. Joes. With Lange having the roster the way he likes it, we should finally see what “Billy Ball” truly is. I look forward to the next couple of seasons Coach Lange has and I hope he gets a fair shot. Maybe this school will be a stepping stone for some under recruited players to gain exposure and transfer to a bigger school, like we’ve seen with Bynum and Hall. Or maybe this school will be the next Villanova, and rise out of the shadows of the big city surrounding it, and become a household name of college basketball with Billy Lange at the helm. Maybe that’s a bit ambitious, but without ambition, what do we have to believe in?