From the outside, Jordan Hall’s summer looked chaotic, maybe downright weird.
Hall was coming off a big freshman year at point guard for St. Joseph’s. The word was out, stop calling about Hall transferring, he’s staying … then, nope, Hall, a 6-foot-8 passing savant, was leaving Hawk Hill, transferring to Texas A&M.
The Neumann Goretti High graduate headed to Texas, just never made it all the way to College Station, only as far as Houston, where he stayed for a couple of months, starting a different process, working out for NBA teams.
“I never set foot in College Station,” Hall said.
There’s the real plot twist: Hall decided to come back to St. Joe’s. If Hall had gone to the Texas A&M campus even once, he said, then he couldn’t have been able to play for the Hawks this season without some kind of NCAA waiver. There were a couple of days when he almost went over to A&M from Houston, since it was only about 90 minutes away, but he said he passed on the trip at the last moment.
A legit twist of fate.
It takes a conversation with Hall to see some of the logic behind it all, how maybe he’ll look back on this summer as the most pivotal of his life, so much happening that meeting Adam Sandler and playing in one of those big-time Sandler-arranged Philly summer pickup games with NBA players such as Tobias Harris and Trae Young … just a cool footnote.
“There were a series of events that kind of let up to me making that decision [to transfer], I don’t really want to speak on that,” Hall said. “When I transferred, I had a lot of personal issues, a lot of family issues, that I wanted to get away from. But, I mean, issues are going to follow you wherever you go.”
Getting away, Hall said, solidified all that: “I had to learn that, being in Houston on my own for two or three months, traveling the country going to workouts, East Coast, West Coast, East Coast. I just did a lot of thinking and learning for myself on my own.”
Three years ago, the NCAA put in rules allowing agents to represent Division I men’s basketball players while they weigh their prospects of trying to compete in the NBA. Hall took advantage of that. Testing NBA waters, Hall, 19, also picked up that maybe he was creating a new problem for himself. St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange had come to Hawk Hill from the 76ers’ staff. Every interview with a team, Hall said he kept getting asked, “Who would leave that?” A coach running NBA stuff already had handed him the ball.
“All the feedback I got was, Billy’s a good coach,” Hall said. “One more year under him, two more years, however long it takes to get you ready.”
As a freshman, Hall averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebound, and 5.7 assists. Lange calls Hall one of the best passers he’s ever been around.
“The whole month of May and early June, I was getting called by NBA teams, and they were lengthy conversations,” Lange said. “A lot of it was about his play, about how I would project him in an NBA setting, both on the court and in the lifestyle. That question was always asked, why is he leaving you? Why is he leaving St. Joe’s?”
Hall went to a tryout camp for a USA U-19 World Cup team. A lot of Power 5 players there, but Hall made it to the last cuts. Maybe a Power 5 label wasn’t all that.
Lange pointed out, it wasn’t the case of a player leaving because he was mistreated.
“I called Billy,” Hall said. “Me and Billy talked on the phone for like two days. We had a lot of long conversations. I was a freshman last year, had never been to college. I’m really like a freshman this year.”
First, a conversation Lange had with Neumann Goretti assistant John Brennan was both Hall asking Brennan to see if he could come back and Lange explaining that he also was feeling it all out: “What does he want? What is he looking for? Can I provide him what he wants?”
“I wasn’t mad from the beginning,” Lange added, pointing out the Hawks were the first school that had really gone after Hall hard in high school. “We’d had a really good spring that was built off the end of our season. When he came to see me in April … I was just like, there’s not much I could do about it. I actually felt bad for him. It didn’t seem like he was sure that this was what he had to do, but he felt like he had to, which, I think, was important for me to respect that feeling of his. It ended, not in a way that I was happy about it, but it didn’t end in a bad way. ... I felt like he could have trusted us to help him a little bit more, he could have been a little more transparent.”
Part of all this: COVID-19 obviously has caused all sorts of life changes. Hall was no different than so many being impacted by it.
“Not a lot of kids being in school -- we weren’t really going to classes,” Hall said. “We were just in the gym and the dorm all day. St. Joe’s isn’t a big school, especially with COVID, made it even smaller. It wasn’t really a good college experience. I kind of wanted to go experience that college experience.”
Now, he’s seeing people around the St. Joe’s campus, it all seems like a much more normal experience. Lange also talked to him about the new players on campus already there.
“He didn’t lie,” Hall said. “Came back, everybody was in the gym working. Everybody was locked in. There are good vibes. Everybody hangs out together, on the court, off the court.”
Eventually, there were discussions about showing NBA scouts what Hall could also do off the ball. With freshman guard Erik Reynolds arriving, taking some of the responsibility off Hall’s shoulder for always having to get the ball up court and the Hawks into their offense … a win-win.
“If it comes down to it, if I need to have the ball, I’ll get the ball in my hands,” Hall said. “I’m still a guard. I wouldn’t even put a position on myself. I would say I’m position-less. … Just playing good, fast basketball, that’s really the goal. That’s really how the game’s evolving now.”
That Sandler game? Hall got a call one afternoon, there was going to be a run at Imhotep Charter. An Imhotep assistant called.
“He just said, don’t bring nobody -- pro runs,” Hall said. “I’m thinking a couple of pros from Philly are going to be there, something like that. I had pulled up to Imhotep, I saw all these exotic cars, these crazy cars. Imhotep, North Philly. I’m like, ‘Yo, who’s here?’ I walked in, I just saw Tobias [Harris], Jordan Clarkson, Trae Young. … I’m like, oh, all right. This is some bump. I saw Adam Sandler … Oh, they’re shooting a movie.”
He wasn’t in the game with Sandler. “Adam only played like the first two games.”
Same team with Harris … going up against Young and Clarkson.
“Trying to get where they’re at,” Hall said. “A nice experience.”
A leader emerges
This season at St. Joe’s, Hall said, is the first time he feels like he’s having a real leadership role. He feels ready for it. Even in high school, there were more established players. Moving into that without having to be the guy always advancing the ball up court.
Hall said he wouldn’t change anything about his summer. Also a reminder that on the outside you don’t know the weight sometimes on a 19-year-old’s shoulders.
“I learned so much about myself and the business I want to be in,” Hall said. “I had negativity. I had positives. I wouldn’t change it.”
He repeated something he’d said earlier: “Issues are going to follow you.”
“I think he’s at a healthier head space than he’s ever been, honestly,” said Brennan, the Neumann Goretti assistant, who said he was never in favor of Hall leaving town. “I think the time traveling served him well. Even as adults, going on vacations, you can see things through a different lens. I think it was all eye-opening. He is in a great space right now.”