Saint Joseph’s (SJU) Basketball finished the 2022-23 season with a record of 16-17, surprising Hawks fans with a late run in the A10 tournament. This was Coach Billy Lange’s best finish as coach of Saint Joe’s, and was the best record for SJU since the 2017-18 season, when the team went .500.
For Saint Joe’s, the highlight of last season came during the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The 10th seed Hawks went on a two game winning streak defeating both Loyola Chicago and George Washington. Saint Joe’s then went on to play Dayton, a two seed, in the quarter-finals. The Flyers won what was a close game, 54-60, sending SJU into the offseason. However, while the loss was disappointing, the small run was a bright spot for the Hawks. It showed their potential for next year. Saint Joe’s was returning many of the players who helped them on that run. Players like Reynolds, Fleming and Greer were returning to pick up where they left off.
What Will the Team Look Like?
Heading into this season, Saint Joe’s will lean on the very players they relied on to close out last year. Juniors Erik Reynolds II and Lynn Greer will be the main focal point of this team’s offense. Reynolds, a 6’2 offense force, averaged 19.6 Pts, 3.1 Reb, 2.5 Ast last season. Greer, another 6’2 guard, averaged 12.5 Pts, 5.0 Reb, 4.1 Ast, and was the main facilitator with the basketball.
Other returning members include Grad Senior Cameron Brown, Junior Kacper Klaczek and Sophomores Christina Winborne and Rasher Fleming. These four make up the backbone of the team, supporting the efforts of both Reynolds and Greer who run the offense.
One newcomer to the team worth noting is 7’’00 Freshman, Christ Essandoko, who will take over responsibilities for Center after the departure of veteran Ejike Obinna. Essandoko, a potential difference maker, will likely start at center for the Hawks. He will round out a starting lineup that includes Reynolds, Greer and Brown. The only remaining question mark on starters is at the power forward position.
At power forward, Coach Lange will have a choice between Kacper and Fleming. The two offer different skill sets, and will likely be swapped out depending on performance and opponents. However, those two are not the only ones that are potentially interchangeable. I expect for Coach Lange to not be married to one starting lineup. Like last year, I foresee him using a combination of the seven players mentioned above in order to optimize the lineup for the second half of the season.
While the starting lineup is a interesting topic, something I can’t put a finger on is the strategy and play style of this team. I won’t make a prediction on it until we see the first game. But know, it’s something I am watching closely. Balancing the fast paced guards with a seven foot center is not going to be easy, and matching style and pace is important in order to have success.
Seven Years Waiting
Saint Joe’s has not had an above .500 season since 2015-2016. That is almost seven years since the team, not only made the NCAA tournament, but actually won more games than they lost. Those with good memories will note that this doesn’t just include Lange’s tenure, but also included a few years under Coach Martelli. That’s how long it has been.
To sound extra cliché, this program is in a state of basketball purgatory, constantly waiting to be released from the process of cleansing wrongs and failures. Fitting, when one considers that the feast of All Souls Day was only last Thursday. While I think this is a phrase many throw around too much, I think it is appropriate to claim that SJU is in a state like purgatory. The team is in a rut, waiting and refining to find its identity. To add more frustration, over the past five years it felt like every improvement had been one step forward, and two back.
However, there is one fact about Purgatory many forget, and it’s worth noting. Purgatory has an end. Hopefully Saint Joe’s has done it’s time and has come to the end, ready to move on. With the players on this team, and they way they closed out last year, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end is near, and the fans’ prayers may be answered soon. This team is ready to break out, and hopefully it’s truly divine.
In October, I was helping my co-host Peter record an episode of our Saint Joe’s basketball podcast, Hawk Talk Podcast. For our big season preview episode we had @VCURamsRewind on who made an excellent point about Saint Joe’s that I can’t stop thinking about. In summary, He said Saint Joe’s is trying to prove that the traditional method of building a team is still feasible in college basketball. That all fans of the sport should be cheering Saint Joe’s on. Because, if they succeed, it will prove that you can build and win with guys who stay for multiple years and dedicate themselves to the process.
For all the critique people throw at Coach Lange, few of his players have left Hawk Hill for other schools. Yes, we had some leave for a graduate year, or try to make it professionally. That’s fine, but that’s also par for the course of college basketball ten years ago. It was nothing like the constant chaos and turnover we have seen most programs inure these last four years. Pair recruiting with the fact that SJU doesn’t take in too many transfers, it truly is homegrown talent. It reminds us of the days when transferring was borderline impossible. In summary, our strength has been in recruiting, developing and keeping players, and if it works this year, it can be a road map for others.
As I said in the previous section, this Saint Joe’s team may be a sign of hope to Hawk fans of SJU moving forward and recapturing some of its former prestige. But to my latter point, for fans of College Basketball, the Hawks may become a beacon of hope for college basketball to return to what it once was.
Saint Joe’s will kick off the season tonight against Lafayette. Tip off is scheduled for 7:00 pm EST and will be aired on ESPN+.