So… the father of one of the top D1 prospects in the area calls me yesterday… Right away he observes…
“The kids are gonna wanna play at St. Joe’s… Billy let’s ’em go, they play hard and they play anybody.”
His son already signed, sealed and committed to another D1 program out of the state, Dad was just doing what we’ve always done… Talking local hoops. I had to agree with his assessment.
“They are in shape, he let’s those guys play basketball. They keep coming at you…”
This was after the second loss in a row to a nationally prominent Power 5 conference opponent. We both agreed there will be some BIG wins coming and soon…
St. Joseph’s Head Coach Billy Lange has taken a stand… He’s decided that he will throw his bunch into the deep end of the pool and see what happens. Sink or swim muthafucka… It’s an admirable approach. Lange sits at 6-28 since assuming the helm at 54th and City Avenue.
Many other coaches would schedule as many America East, NEC or MEAC opponents as possible and get some easy wins. Not Lange…
Yet, despite the losses…
Everyone seems to agree that he’s got the program headed in a decidedly positive direction. Shit… Lange is so convinced in his team’s progress that he is apparently seeking out every available Power 5, Top 25 road game he can find.
Such a scheduling approach is revered around these parts. Grab a bunch of Philly kids, get on a plane and take on all comers. For hoop heads in the 50 – 70 year old range, some of your fondest memories include watching John Chaney march his troops into North Carolina, Duke, UCLA and UNLV and screaming “check rock.”
Last year, despite a ton of close losses, Coach Lange stuck with his plan and his analytic dependent approach to college basketball.
Layups and threes… That’s what the analytic eggheads say… Layups and threes… This approach has taken over the NBA… Houston, Portland, Golden State, etc. have adopted this approach to basketball…
Lange’s embrace of this strategy was clear last year… Many questioned the approach, myself included…
We noted that Lange didn’t have the horses for the kind of race he wanted to run. Maybe, just maybe, he could have slightly modified his approach and won another game or two. Maybe he could have finished 8 – 24 or 9 – 23 instead of 6 – 26.
Naaaaaaah… Lange clearly said FUCK that… We are gonna learn to play the way I want to play…
He decided to stick with his approach and take his lumps. He wanted his team to learn to play a certain way. Of course, he wanted to win but not at the expense of forestalling the full implementation of “BillyBall” on Hawk Hill.
At times, it was painful to watch. He was playing pinochle with a hand dealt from poker deck.
This year, he has assembled a roster that is faster, more explosive, better shooting and better defensively.
These guys are playing as a unit. They are committed to being aggressive offensively. They push the rock. Even against elite athletes they just keep coming.
Dahmir Bishop (Imhotep/Xavier) and Jack Forrest (Lower Merion/Columbia) look like kids that have been allowed outside after spending 6 months on punishment. With Lange’s encouragement and support, these guys are letting it fly… They have demonstrated an ability to get good looks at layups and threes… More importantly, they’ve been converting these looks at a nice clip.
Greg Foster is athletic, he’s able to push the rock while being cautious and he’s a very capable perimeter defender. Jordan Hall is finding his way… A natural playmaker, he is a long and capable point forward.
Cameron Brown is a capable scorers and a steady calming influence off the bench and Rahmir Moore provides pure unadulterated Philly toughness.
Despite the aforementioned upgrades to the roster, this SJU team will only go as far as the BIG DOGS are able to take them. Taylor Funk and Ryan Daly possess All-A10 talent. Funk, with his feet set is one of the best shooters we’ve seen in recent years. His range literally extends from the concession stand inward. He’s always been capable of stringing together 3, 4 or 5 straight NBA 3 pointers. Nothing new to see here. What is new is his commitment to strength and conditioning. He has changed his body. He is leaner than he was in high school. This is significant because he will have to play major minutes if this version of the Hawks aspire to be a factor in the A10.
Funk can barely jump over the laptop he using to complete his schoolwork, yet he had emerged as a solid “BIG” for this team. He understands the importance of positioning in rebounding and defending the post. He’s getting shit done against much bigger and more explosive post players… Respect.
Daly continues be the unquestioned leader of this scrappy Hawk bunch. He’s a fucking hockey player on a basketball court. Daly is the Bobby Clarke of college basketball. Against Auburn and Kansas he repeatedly tried to protect the rim against 6’9” dudes with 40 inch vertical leaps. Watching at game speed, one is convinced that he got “all ball” on these efforts. The slo-motion instant replays reveal the truth though… He just checked those guys against the boards and damn near knocked their teeth out.
But he sells it hard! “What foul ref?”
Daly has never seen a matchup he didn’t like… He’s going to score, rebound and get assists every game. There’s literally nothing the opponent can do about it. His tenacity and confidence allows the other guys to play freely.
Coach Lange has a very interesting team… They play an appealing style of basketball… They are seeking out the very best opponents… Local Dads and kids are noticing.
Imagine what will happen if they can make it to the Stanley Cup Finals?
Or… better yet, what if they knock off Nova on Wednesday?