I went to the Michael J. Hagan ’85 Arena at 54th and City Avenue to watch a St. Joseph’s home game for what seems like the 1,023rd time. Over the past 40 years, I have made my way inside the cozy confines of this facility to watch the Hawks take on any and all comers at least twice as many times as I have visited any other arena. For years, Hagan, previously known as Alumni Fieldhouse, was my favorite basketball place.
The faces have changed… Bryan Warrick, Tony Costner, Bob Lojewski, Geoff Arnold, Bruiser Flint, Mo Martin, Rodney Blake, Rap Curry, Bernard Blunt, Mark Bass, Terrell Myers, Rashid Bey, Yah Davis, Naim Crenshaw, Marvin O’Connor, Delonte West, Tyrone Barley, Pat Carroll, Tasheed Carr, Tay Jones, Langston Galloway and Charlie Brown ain’t dere no mo…
It’s a different experience.
I arrived about an hour before the jump ball and I parked about 100 feet from the entrance. For decades, I had to park 2 or 3 blocks from the arena. The crowd, in comparison to the Hagan I have grown accustomed to, was sparse. The student section was noticeably thin. Lines at the concession counter were nonexistent. The band was down more than a few pieces…
The JUICE just wasn’t there.
Now… don’t get me wrong, there were some fantastic players in the building. John Linehan is one of greatest on ball defenders in the history of college basketball. He still holds holds the 4 year NCAA career steals record. One of the 5 year Covid guys surpassed his total, but did so with an asterisk in about 30 more games. Mike Jordan is a 3 time 1st team All-Ivy Leaguer and a member of the Big 5 Hall of fame. Tasheed Carr was a very good point guard for some solid Hawk teams. Lynn Greer I is a certified CIAA legend and Lynn Greer II ranks with Rogers, Lear and Macon among the greatest Temple Owls of all-time.
Unfortunately, Linehan and Jordan are coaching these days, while Carr, LG1 and LG2 are relegated to spectator status.
The guys on the court, for both squads, played hard and truly competed ’til the final buzzer sounded. In the end, just like so many other times over the past century, the HAWK REFUSED to die.
But it just wasn’t the same… I know it… You know it… We all know it…
The question becomes: Is the Hawk program headed back to prominence? Does Billy Lange have them on the right track?
Since, then President, Mark Reed and first year Athletic Director, Jill Bodensteiner stunned the Philadelphia basketball community and decided to move on from, long time head coach, Phil Martelli, the Hawks are 23-61 (.274) overall and 10-38 (.208) in the A10.
The road, post-Martelli, has been rough, to say the least.
Looking back, it’s fair to say Martelli’s dismissal was handled in a rather clumsy manner. As a result, a close knit Hawk community was fractured. On a positive note, it appears that some of the wounds are beginning to heal. Martelli’s successor, Billy Lange inherited a decimated lineup. The bungled transition left SJU with a hastily assembled roster with just a couple of proven A10 caliber players, Ryan Daly and Taylor Funk.
The resulting 6-26 record that first year was to be expected. In one fell swoop, an Uber came to 54th and City Ave and picked up Fresh Kimble (transfer to Louisville), Charlie Brown Jr. (NBA) and Jared Bynum (transfer to Providence).
A Lyft on it’s way to City Avenue containing Bones Hyland (committed to VCU), Hakim Hart (committed to Maryland) screeched to a halt and made a quick u-turn. The driver turned off his cell phone and unplugged his GPS.
Two NBA players and 3 high major starters… Gone… In the blink of an eye…
Figuratively speaking, Reed and Bodensteiner gave Lange a new house, but before he could move in vandals ripped out all of the copper pipes… They also stole the furnace, water heater, stove, dishwasher and the refrigerator…
Nonetheless… Immediately after closing, Lange moved in… It was the worst time of year to be in the market for new appliances, all that fly high end Viking and Wolf shit was on back order. Lange had no choice but to run out and grab some leftover Maytag and Frigidaire stuff to get by…
St. Joseph’s muddled through their worst season since 1974–75.
Given ample time to plan and execute a recruiting strategy, Lange was able identify and land an absolute steal. He brought an NBA level talent, Jordan Hall, from Neumann-Goretti to 54th and City Ave. Hall teamed with Martelli holdovers, Daly and Funk, to give St. Joseph’s a fighting chance on most nights. Despite the unexpected disappearance of opening day starting point guard, Greg Foster, after just a handful of games, the Hawks finished the 5-15, 3-9 in a truncated A10 season.
The Hawk was not dead… But, he took more than few standing 8 counts under Lange those first two seasons.
Year 3, Lange was able to get another steal when he convinced Erik Reynolds to come up I-95 and join the Hawks. But, perhaps, his most impressive accomplishment in this area was re-recruiting Jordan Hall after he had announced his transfer to Texas A&M. The Hawks were able to get squeeze out 11 wins in Lange’s 3rd season.
The team showed signs of improving. One step forward…
Then another Lyft showed up and carried Rahmir Moore to Wagner in the middle of the season. Another Uber SUV arrived at the end of the season and this time Dahmir Bishop (transfer to FGCU), Jake Forrest (transfer to Bucknell), Taylor Funk (transfer to Utah State) and Jadrian Tracey (transfer to Florida SouthWestern State) hopped in and sped away from Wynnefield. Hall took his considerable talents to the San Antonio Spurs.
Two steps backward?
That brings us to the home opener in year 4. The Hawks opened the season against the Houston Cougars. Ranked #3 in the nation at the time, Kelvin Sampson’s team is big, athletic, strong, fast, mean and fiercely competitive. Lange’s boys weren’t ready for that smoke… Houston jumped out early and led wire to wire as they spanked the Hawks.
Basically, Sampson told Lange, “Go get me a switch… and, it betta not be a lil’ one.”
No shame there, Houston has since ascended to #1 in some polls for a reason. They are serious Final Four contenders.
The Hawks, while showing signs of improvement, are not National Championship contenders just yet. St. Joseph’s faithful are hoping to make it to middle of the A10 pack. As noted earlier, the question becomes: Are the Hawks on the road back to prominence? St. Joe’s could normally be counted on to make an NCAA tournament appearance every 3 or 4 years. Will Lange go dancing in the foreseeable future?
Mike Jordan’s Lafayette squad provided a more realistic opportunity to gauge this year’s version of the Hawks than Sampson’s Cougars.
Coming into the game, the Leopards were 0-2 with tough road losses to Miami (ACC) and St. John’s (Big East). After facing such stiff Power 5 competition to open the season, Jordan was looking to grab a win in his hometown against the Hawks. For the first 10 minutes, it was a back and forth affair with 6 lead changes. With 9:48 remaining in the first half, St. Joseph’s took an 18-17 lead that they would never relinquish.
First impression, Jordan has the Leopards running some really good shit!
The ball really moves… pass, pass, pass, pass, drive, kick open look. Time after time, Lafayette was able to get very clean looks at 3 point shots. Their sophomore point guard CJ Fulton played an outstanding floor game. He was able control the pace throughout much the contest. Fulton moved the ball ahead in transition with regularity, broke down Hawk defenders off the dribble to find shooters and bigs underneath, and hit the weak side shooters in the hands consistently. He plays with excellent pace and timing out of ball screens. Fulton also and got all the way to the rim in the half court a couple times and converted uncontested layups. He finished with 15 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 5 steals. Fulton is really tough and will be problem for Patriot League opponents for sure.
Ultimately, however, it came down to the Jimmys and Joes…
The Hawks were able to pull out the victory because they have two bonafide A10 players. Cam Brown entered this, his senior, season with over 700 points and 300 rebounds under his belt. He is a big, strong experienced wing with a smooth shooting stroke. Against Lafayette, he added 20 points and 12 rebounds to those totals. Reynolds started 29 games last season as a freshman and actually led the team in scoring in A10 play at 14.4 ppg. Last night he dropped 21 points while shooting 7-13 overall and 5-10 from behind the 3 point line. Reynolds also dropped 4 dimes and had 2 steals.
Brown and Reynolds were very good… They looked like good A10 players… Lynn Greer III, playing in just his 12th college basketball game struggled from the field (0-8, 0-3 3FG) but he had 5 assists and knocked down 2 clutch free throws with 11 seconds left in the game to extend a 2 point lead to 4. He also spoon-fed Ejike Obinna with a couple of soft perfectly placed alley-oop passes for dunks. Sophomore forward, Kacper Klaczek playing in just his 13th college game contributed 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a blocked shot in 35 minutes. He looked much more comfortable shooting and handling the ball from the perimeter than he did in limited action last season.
This year’s prized rookie, Christian Winborne, had 3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and, most importantly, 4 steals. His last pilfer came with 1:20 left in the game and SJU leading 59-54. His effort was greeted with boundless enthusiasm by, Linehan, the best ever in that category. Winborne is an explosive high major athlete learning his way around college basketball. Playing with Reynolds and Greer will allow him to share playmaking responsibilities as he gains an understanding of how to contribute to wins on Hawk Hill. Another good get for Lange.
One of the most promising and intriguing young players in the Big 5 and the A10 is St. Joseph’s rookie PF Rasheer Fleming. With his sprained ankle in a boot, Fleming was unavailable against Lafayette. His combination of length, athleticism and energy will make it tough to keep him off the floor when he returns to action. Somehow, someway Fleming is gonna play starter minutes this year,
After watching St. Joseph’s in action against a pretty good Patriot League team, one would have to conclude that Lange has the Hawks headed in the right direction. There are some solid A10 players on the roster, the young guys Winborne, Fleming and Christ Essandoko (current redshirt) have to potential to be very good A10 players.
Seated directly behind the Hawk bench were prized recruits Shawn Simmons, Anthony Finkley and Xzayvier Brown, all of whom will don Hawk uniforms next season. Intermingled with the ’23 Hawk commits were some of the top ’24 prospects in the mid-Atlantic region. Deuce Maxey (Wood), Thomas Sorber (Ryan) and Khaafiq Myers (Neumann-Goretti) were enjoying the sights and sound of Hagan Arena.
Lange is shopping for Viking and Wolf appliances these days…
So, yes… The Hawks appear to be headed in the right direction.
But, will they get there on time?
President Reed is now leading Loyola University of Chicago and the Athletic Director, Jill Bodensteiner, has taken an extended leave of absence.
With the win last night, Lange is now 23-61,10-38 in the early stages of year 4 at the helm. By any reasonable assessment, that’s not good. Indeed, that is historically bad. But, he was dealt a really fucked up hand when his walked in the door.
Apparently, the folk that fired Martelli and hired Lange, will not be assessing his progress. Will a new President and athletic director look backward, emphasize the struggle to compile wins and go in another direction? Or, will they look at the recruiting momentum and give Lange an opportunity to coach the talented kids he’s landed and perhaps even grab a few more?
I don’t have a fucking clue… Neither do you…
It’s a different experience.