With a mix of strong returning student-athletes, new talent and chemistry, women’s basketball is ready for the new season.
Nearly every night of the summer, before on-campus practice resumed, Ryan Daly spent countless hours in the Saint Dennis Church gym in Havertown, PA. There, he practiced his three-point shot alongside his younger brother, Colin, who’s now a walk-on at Temple. When he wasn't in his local church gym, he was running laps on the track, grinding on the outdoor courts or playing pickup against other local ballers including some Villanova Wildcats.
Sharp shooter Taylor Funk, who spent much of last season out with a thumb injury, used his time off the court working on his conditioning as well – running, swimming, biking and climbing stairs in Hagan Arena alongside head strength and conditioning coach Eric Lang.
Now, both Daly and Funk are lighter, stronger and faster. And they’re joined by reinforcements. The team will get to see the impact of two high-level transfers in Dhamir Bishop and Greg Foster, Jr., who are now eligible to play.
Bishop, a transfer from Xavier, who captained his high school squad at Imhotep Charter, returns to his home city of Philadelphia to join the Hawks. After sitting out last season, he’ll look to use his athleticism to bring a defensive presence and scoring threat. Foster, a three-star recruit who transfered from Gonzaga, is expected to step in at the point guard position and help provide more shot opportunities for Daly.
As a team, head coach Billy Lange said they are focusing on three main tactical parts: developing an attacking defensive identity, rebounding and sharing the basketball holistically.
As Lange built this year’s team, he brought in guys who really believe in his vision and want to be part of what they’re creating on Hawk Hill. He cares about winning, sure, that’s a given. He also cares about the men that make up the roster. And he feels personally responsible for building a team that represents the University. He describes his new group of men as “high character guys.”
“It doesn’t mean we want perfect guys,” Lange says. “College is a time for great growth and Saint Joseph’s is a place that can help people achieve their full potential. What we’re looking for is people that have great intentions. And want to grow. And want to learn. And want to represent the program and the University. I just think that if we can do that, one, we represent our University, two, it gives us our best chance of success on the basketball floor.”
Now, with the return of the Hawks’ top five scorers, the addition of some significant transfers, and the team in better health and fitness, Lange wants to be competitive in every matchup and to keep executing his vision for the future of St. Joe’s men’s basketball.
On paper, the St. Joe’s Hawks have more pieces and a deeper, stronger roster. They’ve now been focusing on putting those pieces together to play as a team.
“Of course I’ve been working on my game,” Cameron Brown says. But he’s also been working on playing well with his teammates and becoming a better communicator. “This year we have a really deep team and we’re hopefully gonna win if we play as a team,” he says.
After a standout season, Daly tested the NBA Draft waters and received some significant offers from high-level European programs. Ultimately he decided to stay at St. Joe’s for his final year of college ball.
“If I didn’t like the school, if I didn’t like St. Joe’s and the people here, I would’ve left,” Daly says. “I love the people here, I love the students, I love the ministry, I love everyone here. This is my favorite place. I’ve said that multiple times. And I saw the potential of this year’s team.”
Daly, who was one of the best shooters in the nation last season, will undoubtedly be the center of attention again. But Lange is also looking for Daly to lead by example and pass on his wisdom to the younger student-athletes around him – guys like Jordan Hall, as well as Jadrian Tracey.
With the Hawks more physically fit and playing together as a unit, they’ll look to demonstrate Lange’s vision for a tenacious Hawks basketball program.
“I think our potential is through the roof to be honest,” Daly says. “Usually people make their jumps in their second year together. First year you’re feeling everyone out, we had a rough year record wise, but we were in a lot of those games and I think we’re going to learn how to win this year and we’re gonna surprise some people for sure.”
The First Test
St. Joe’s will get their first chance to unveil what they’ve been working on behind the scenes at the Fort Meyers Tip-Off Tournament in Florida. They’ll take on Auburn on Nov. 26, Thanksgiving, and then face Kansas on the following day. It will be a difficult test early in the season to face two top-ranked programs.
Lange says as soon as the rumors of the tournament reached social media, he had the guys’ attention. They want to play with the best.
“We’re excited. We’re not gonna go in there tentative, feeling like it’s an honor to be there, we’re expecting to win all those games,” Daly says. “And we’re definitely looking forward to them, we’re not going to be scared at all I’ll tell you that.”
Lange also thinks it’s an opportunity to highlight St. Joe’s basketball.
“We need people to see us as the street fighters that represent Hawk Hill, Philadelphia and that’s going to attract people,” Lange says. “So every opportunity that we get to play against college basketball royalty, we’re going to take it. Forever. Because we believe Saint Joseph’s belongs in college basketball royalty.”
Lange outlines his vision for the future of St. Joe’s basketball very clearly: “Our vision is to be a perennial national contender. That is the vision.”
He knows this won’t happen overnight, but he points out there are recipes for success and models of like institutions becoming consistently competitive contenders in the NCAA tournament.
Part of fulfilling that vision is the tactical: improving defensively and increasing efficiency. The other piece for the Hawks is embodying a drive towards betterment.
“There has to be a resilience, a hope, an optimism, and an effort that we take on the court all the time,” Lange says.
For Lange, results matter, so does appearance, but above all, character reigns king. “Iron sharpens iron” is his mantra. And this season, Lange and St. Joe’s basketball fans will look to see how much sharper the St. Joe’s Hawks are.