One in a series of player profile articles previewing the 2020-21 City Six college basketball season.

This wasn’t a recruiting visit, official or unofficial, that time Greg Foster Jr., in eighth grade, in town with his family, sat at Billy Lange’s dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner.

Greg Foster Sr. and Lange had joined Brett Brown’s 76ers coaching staff within a week of each other. The Fosters had been living in El Paso, but were planning a full family move to this area.

“I was helping Greg Sr. find a place for him,” Lange said recently. “He spent Thanksgiving at my house playing nerf ball with my kids.”

The move never came about because Foster took a new job, on the Milwaukee Bucks coaching staff. While Foster Jr. went as far as spending a week in the summer with a Lower Merion High student, he never moved here.

Until this year. That kid with the nerf ball turned out to have skills with a standard-sized basketball. He played a season at Gonzaga, but when playing time was scarce on a loaded Zags team, Foster Sr. and Jr. looked around for a new place. By then, Lange had taken the St. Joseph’s head-coaching job. Foster Sr. had become an Atlanta Hawks assistant. They got in touch.

“I’ve been trying to call you for like three weeks,” Lange remembers Foster Sr. telling him, but he had changed his number.

It all fit together.

“He’s a plus athlete, at 6-foot-5,” Lange said. “He’s very, very fast with the basketball. It’s a different level of speed when he is pushing in the full court.”

Off the court, Lange saw a guy ready to speak up to his teammates.

“He’s a connector,” Lange said. “He’s constantly checking on people.”

“I had other high major offers, but the biggest thing was just finding someone who I trusted, and believed in me,” Foster Jr said of his move to Hawk Hill.

“I always knew working with Billy that he was extremely detail-oriented, as organized as anyone I’d ever seen,” Foster Sr. said. “His drills and development work are second to none. He always had a way about him, this energy, that to me was really impressive.”

Gonzaga guard Greg Foster Jr. (4) dribbling the ball in front of North Alabama guard Tavon King (1) during a December 2018 game.
Young Kwak / AP
Gonzaga guard Greg Foster Jr. (4) dribbling the ball in front of North Alabama guard Tavon King (1) during a December 2018 game.

Dad saw a fit.

“He’s always been very cerebral in his approach to playing basketball,” Foster Sr. said of his son. “He always saw things on the court, was able to read this. I still believe he has that trait.”

It didn’t hurt that the son was always in the gym with NBA players. As a ninth grader, he remembers seeing this young super skinny Bucks big guy, Giannis Antetokounmpo — “It’s crazy to see his growth,” Greg Jr. said.

One key for Foster to really be a difference-maker is getting his jumper to be effective. That’s been the focus of a lot of his work during his year off after transferring. He’s always felt like a pass-first point guard, but with his athleticism, Lange is looking for him to blend it all together.

“Mechanically, I think he has it,” Lange said of Foster’s jump shot. “Now, how do I do it at game speed? That’s been the focus [in the preseason.]”

Sitting out, Foster said, he’s been able to see the game through a little different lens, not a coach’s perspective exactly, but just a different angle that should help him now.

Let’s assume Greg Foster Sr. passed along basketball survival. This is a guy who lasted 13 seasons, playing for nine franchises, usually off the bench. Different player, though. A 6-foot-11 post player. So the son, now 6-foot-5, remembers being a stubborn teenager.

“A father-son thing, doesn’t matter what level,” Foster Jr. said. “You’re going to be hard-headed. … Him having so much experience, I know he’s right in the bottom of my heart, but I don’t want to say it.”

When Dad brought up St. Joseph’s, the son looked into it. Lange’s NBA experience was a selling point. The phone calls with Lange and his staff convinced him it was a fit. So a half-dozen years after he almost came here for high school, he’s here for college. Thanksgiving this year means a return to the court.

Small world? Even that Lower Merion High student Foster stayed with for a week, Jack Forrest, is now a St. Joe’s teammate, a transfer in from Columbia. Basketball can be a small neighborhood.