After announcing the hiring of 76ers assistant coach Billy Lange as the new St. Joseph’s head basketball coach, the school’s athletic director cited Lange’s “range of experience” and particularly his player development experience.
Lange, a former Jay Wright assistant at Villanova who also had been a head coach at Navy and the Merchant Marine Academy, and an assistant at La Salle and Philadelphia Textile, will start his work on Hawk Hill after Thursday night’s Sixers game.
Sources said Lange, 47, had met with the St. Joe’s team earlier on Thursday. He will be formally introduced at a media conference next week, on April 4.
St. Joe’s athletic director Jill Bodensteiner said she was particularly impressed by Brett Brown explaining how when he took over as 76ers coach, he decided he particularly needed a player development specialist -- “the fact that Billy Lange was identified as that person, to get young, talented players better, was really exciting for me.”
Sources said iconic Hawks player Jameer Nelson and Colgate coach Matt Langel were other top candidates for the job. Colgate announced a contract extension Thursday for Langel.
“St. Joe’s is legendary in collegiate and Philadelphia basketball,” Lange said in a statement from St. Joe’s. “As a basketball fan who grew up and played in South Jersey and spent much of my career in Philadelphia, this is an epic opportunity for me. I am honored and humbled to stand among the many greats who are associated with Hawk basketball, and I’m ready and eager to lead this storied program into its next era.”
A native of Haddon Heights, son of a legendary Bishop Eustace coach, Lange played basketball at Eustace and Rowan.
“Billy came to play at Rowan knowing that he wanted to coach,’’ said former Rowan and La Salle coach John Giannini, who said he remains close to Lange.
Lange comes from a Hawk family. His father Bill and mother Kathryn were both 1970 graduates of the school, his brother Mark a 1997 graduate. His wife, Alicia, once worked for several years in the athletic department in an academic support role.
“His first college position was here,’’ said Jefferson University coach Herb Magee, back in the day when the school was Philadelphia Textile. Magee now has two of the Big 5 head coaches as former Textile assistants, with Lange joining Penn’s Steve Donahue in that club. “He was a hard worker. He showed he had a lot of contacts for a young guy. We got involved with some players right away. He had a full package, good X’s and O’s knowledge, related to the players well. I’ve always liked him as a man.”
Magee noted that his assistants were paid a modest stipend, that he helped Lange get his first Division I job, on Speedy Morris’ staff at La Salle.
When St. Joe’s had let Phil Martelli go last week after 24 seasons, the school had noted the intent to develop a “sustained culture of excellence.” How would Bodensteiner quantify that?
“Well, for me there are lot of different ways to measure excellence when it comes to evaluating,’’ Bodensteiner said. “We’re here to develop student-athletes as people, as students, to reach their athletic potential. APR matters, graduation rates. Are students getting engaged on campus? That all matters. You look at results, but that’s not as easy as people might say where you look at a record.”
In Lange’s only prior run as a Division I head coach, Navy finished 93-113 over seven seasons.
“We considered that and asked him a lot of questions, and talked to multiple people at Navy,’’ Bodensteiner said. “We came away satisfied,’’ noting that it’s tough to have sustained basketball success at the military academies.
“At the time, Billy was the youngest head coach in Division I,’’ Bodensteiner said. “I think he’ll be the first to say that was a learning experience.”
In addition to being the second former Jay Wright assistant in two years to take over a Big 5 program (after Ashley Howard at La Salle), Lange also will be the second former Sixers assistant coaching a Big 5 team, joining Temple’s Aaron McKie, who has taken over for Fran Dunphy.
Speaking before the Sixers game, Brett Brown talked about how “rarely” do you see a situation like this, a late-season move -- “this makes sense. It’s a natural fit. ... Billy Lange to St. Joe’s is such an incredibly natural pairing to me. ... Happy, happy, just so happy for Billy Lange."
About what Lange brings to the table, Brown said, “Where do I begin? He’s the son of a coach, he knows Philadelphia and this area intimiately. He’s highly respected by coaches all over. He’s a man of integrity. I think the pairing of him and St. Joe’s for sort of even spiritual reasons makes sense.”
Brown continued through Lange’s resume, getting to the Sixers, saying that when Lange was fired hired as Brown’s director of player development -- “he nailed it. He really grabbed the gym, and improved people.” He praised the work Lange did the last few years with the offense, and "despite rumblings in the market place, he said to look at the defensive metrics when Joel Embiid or his new backups were out there. "I’m proud of our ranking when the big boys played,'' Brown said.
To be able to tell that story in the home of St. Joe’s recruits, Brown said, “I think he’s just going to take off.”