By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – His resume speaks for itself. A college coach – both as an assistant and head – for more than a decade. An assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers since 2013, an era that included a complete rebuild of an organization going nowhere but now being considered among the NBA’s elite.
So when St. Joseph’s University announced that its new men’s basketball coach would be Billy Lange, no one could criticize the choice.
“Within 10 minutes in that interview, I knew this was our next head coach,” said SJU’s first-year athletic director Jill Bodensteiner. “I had done all my research. I had never met the guy. I had heard a lot about him. I had done some reference checks and he absolutely blew me away.
SJU Hawk's head coach Billy Lange and family pose center court in the Hagan Arena - PSD Photo by John Knebels
“Then about halfway through the interview I started thinking, ‘I hope he takes this position if offered.’ When we agreed to terms, I was absolutely ecstatic and just thrilled for the future of St. Joseph’s University and its men’s basketball program.”
On Thursday afternoon inside the school’s Hall of Fame room, Bodensteiner and school president Dr. Mark Reed both formally introduced Lange as St. Joe’s 15th head coach in its 110-year history.
With his wife Alicia, sons Will, Matt, Jake, and Mark, parents, brother, mentors such as 76ers coach Brett Brown and former La Salle and Rowan University coach John Giannini – Lange’s college coach at Rowan – present, Lange provided some of his insights both before and after accepting the position.
“All the jobs I’ve been involved with have been great jobs,” said Lange. “With the Philadelphia 76ers, I can’t say enough about my time there. I miss those guys.
“You start wrapping your head, though, around what is an epic opportunity. You get a call that says that St. Joseph’s would like to meet with you and you start thinking about being the head coach at St. Joe’s and I wanted to walk in there and meet with Dr. Reed and Jill. You’re talking about the president and the athletic director at this great institution, so I better be prepared.
“You start wrapping your head around the institution, the program, the city, a plan, a vision, and you start getting really, really excited.”
Lange reminisced about an immediate whirlwind of emotion – should he keep his great job with an NBA team near where he grew up in Haddon Heights, N.J., or should he inherit a basketball program at an uber-popular, much-loved Big Five university with high expectations to return to the national spotlight?
“I think that it was a little overwhelming just in terms of like, ‘Do you sleep? Do you not sleep? Can you sleep?’ I couldn’t,” said Lange. “There was a lot going on.”
After returning to a place of mental and emotional calm, Lange knew he had to make a decision, and soon.
“I started to really wrap my head around this opportunity, (and) what it means for me,” said Lange. “It might not mean that much to everyone, but for me this is a good as it gets . . . this is epic. And what I thought it would mean for my family and my children and what we could do for the community, a chance to impact lives.”
“I was ready to go,” said Lange. “I was ready to go.”
The 2019-20 edition of Hawks basketball teeters in limbo. Because a new coach has taken over, every current player is allowed to test the transfer waters without the need to sit out a year. While there have been rumors about who will stay or who will go, it’s way too early to predict.
For now, Lange is offering his philosophies of both life and basketball.
“College is a time of great growth,” said Lange. “Young, eager, and ambitious hearts and minds come to this university filled with hope. They are ‘dream chasers,’ if you will. Any student athlete who comes to play basketball in the great city of Philadelphia in a major conference like the Atlantic 10, and to a program like St. Joe’s basketball, which has had countless great players – too many to name – should have high basketball aspirations.
“We are going to embrace that. We will go all-in on helping our student athletes pursue their passions. We are dedicated to helping them chase their dreams. We will be totally dedicated to their holistic development – their mind, their body, their spirit, and their skill. We want to create a joyful energy as they embark on their St. Joe’s basketball journey.”
As for his personal journey, Lange is beyond grateful.
“Human beings do not ‘replace’ human beings,” said Lange. “What has preceded my arrival here is decades of relationships, mentorships, servant hood, influence, and an eternal impact, which I will strive daily to maintain and continue.
“I welcome the responsibility of being the next steward of St. Joe’s basketball. Coaches such as Phil Martelli, John Griffin, Jim Boyle, Jim Lynam, Jack McKinney, and Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay have led on Hawk Hill with passion and diligence, and I am honored and humbled to be able to contribute to this program’s great legacy.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)