In Year 3 of the Billy Lange era, St. Joseph’s had a disappointing 11-19 (5-13) season. The Hawks were ousted in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament by Big 5 rival La Salle.
“First off, I am not oblivious to the passion that our St. Joe’s fan base has and the fatigue of wanting to win,” Lange said.
Even though Lange is well aware of the expectations that come with coaching a historic program like St. Joe’s, he’s still focused on making sure the Hawks are on the path to sustainable success.
“Although the results sometimes weren’t great, the execution at least of being organized, I was proud of our guys for that,” Lange said. “And improvement of our defense from Year 2 Year 3. But that doesn’t erase the pains of losing that many close games.”
Right before the new year, the Hawks blew out future Atlantic 10 champion Richmond 83-56 on its home floor. This win showed the Hawks’ potential for the 2021-22 season, potential that ultimately was not realized.
“We’re still growing,” Lange said. “No one wants to hear that, and I don’t expect people that are fans to care about that.”
That’s the reality on Hawk Hill. Growth will continue to be a theme next year. The Hawks are losing Taylor Funk who, after five years of St. Joe’s basketball, has transferred to Utah State for his sixth year. Jordan Hall also is moving on to the next level and has declared for the NBA draft after two years at St. Joe’s.
“We’ve known for months that [Hall] was not coming back, and so you’ve got to play through that distraction, you’ve got to play through those pressures,” Lange said. “I commend him on that.”
Jack Forrest and Dahmir Bishop also entered the transfer portal. This marks the second time Forrest and Bishop have gone through this process as both came to St. Joe’s through the portal after their freshman year.
Lange pointed to two incoming freshmen who will shoulder the continued growth of the program next year in Christian Winborne and Rasheer Fleming.
“A lot of that development will be through growing pains on the court,” Lange said. “So guys like Winborne, guys like Fleming, you want to give those guys minutes to grow if they are ready for that.”
Lange made sure to add that point: Not every freshman is ready by Game 1. Kacper Klaczek began his season in the starting lineup but was moved to a different role early to give a more experienced player in Cameron Brown more minutes.
One player who was ready to jump into the fray right away was freshman guard Erik Reynolds.
“Reynolds’ nonconference stats to his Atlantic 10 stats are night and day,” Lange said. “And at the end of the year, he was arguably the best or most productive guy from an offensive standpoint.”
Along with freshman production, there always is the portal. Already, the Hawks have Louis Bleechmore coming in from Harcum College and Lynn Greer III coming from Dayton.
The fall will see many new faces, but Hawks fans can be sure to count on their big man again next season. Ejike Obinna is staying on Hawk Hill for his final year of eligibility.
“It wasn’t a hard decision. Before the season ended, I knew I was coming back,” Obinna said. “I have never been a big fan of transferring.”
In the second half of the conference schedule, the Hawks had seven losses that were decided by seven points or less. With five years of college basketball under his belt, Obinna knows what it takes to win those games that are decided in the final minutes.
“It’s hard because most times at that point of the game, fatigue is creeping in and everything,” Obinna said. “We were just having no sense of urgency in those crucial moments and it’s something as a team we will get better at.”
The forward/center pointed out the relative youth of the Hawks compared to their Atlantic 10 competitors.
“Richmond, Davidson, they have been together for so long. So they just had that chemistry that we didn’t have [last season],” Obinna said. “It takes time to build a team … if you [win] half of those [close games], it would be a different season for us.”
The expectations and pressure will heighten into Lange’s fourth year as head coach, but the path to sustained success remains the same.