Lange Appreciated for Coaching With Human Touch

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Get to know Billy Lange just a little bit, and it's easy to tell what he's all about:

Basketball, family, and faith (and not necessarily in that particular order). 

Combine those qualities with his impressive, well-rounded professional track record, and the reasons Saint Joseph’s University had for naming the 47-year old its next head coach become fairly obvious.

The announcement, made official by the school Thursday afternoon, brings to an end a strong, successful sideline partnership dating back to the earliest days of Brett Brown’s coaching tenure.

Lange, a Haddon Heights, New Jersey native, was one of Brown’s first hires, an integral part of both the behind-the-scenes and front-facing efforts that have helped transform the 76ers into one of the NBA’s elite teams.

Lange’s uplifting, passionate presence was a consistent source of energy, whether at practice or during games, while his studied approach and constant thirst for learning made him a valued, trusted tactical resource.

And to think that prior to Lange joining Brown’s staff, the two men essentially knew nothing of each other, aside from reputations. They came to form a productive, mutually enjoyable partnership.

Brown called Lange’s next career step - the top job on Hawk Hill - an “incredibly natural pairing.”

“He’s got a story to tell,” Brown said. “I’ve lived with him for six years. I think the timing in his life is right to accept this, and grab it right by the throat and take off with it.”

Lange’s pedigree speaks for itself. He got his first head coaching gig at 23, replacing his father, Bill Lange Sr., at Bishop Eustace in Cherry Hill.

Lange later worked under iconic Philadelphia hoops fixtures Herb Magee (Philadelphia University) and Speedy Morris (La Salle), before taking the reins at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

He then spent three seasons with Jay Wright at Villanova. Navy came calling next, which led to a seven-year run in Annapolis.

Lange returned to the Main Line in 2011 as Wright’s associate head coach. The former might not have any rings from the Wildcats’ 2016 and 2018 NCAA championships, but the members of the star-studded recruiting classes he landed in two short seasons sure do.

During his stint with the Sixers, Lange continued to demonstrate his coaching chops.

Initially assigned to oversee the team’s player development program, he was instrumental in getting the most out of the Sixers’ homegrown talent, especially those players who proved to be some of the organization’s key finds.

As Brown joked Thursday at his pre-game press conference hours before Lange’s final game on the sideline, if you’re looking for validation of Lange’s coaching prowess, simply talk to Robert Covington’s accountant.

“He nailed it,” Brown said of Lange’s work as the Sixers’ director of player development. “He really grabbed the gym, and coached pros and improved people.”

From there, Lange was put in charge of the Sixers’ offense, a responsibility he held through the end of last season, when the Sixers ranked among the top 10 in three of the ‘Four Factor’ categories (effective field goal %, free throw rate, and offensive rebounding %). The club also ended the 2017-18 campaign second overall in assist percentage (66.3).

This year, following the departure of Lloyd Pierce to the Atlanta Hawks, Lange managed the Sixers’ defense. Heading into Thursday’s match-up with the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers were tied for first in the NBA with an opponent 3-point field goal percentage of 33.9.

Furthermore, with either Joel Embiid (103.3 on-court defensive rating) or Boban Marjanovic (103.5) on the floor, the Sixers this season have performed like one of the top defensive teams in the league.

“I’m proud of the ranking we have when the big boys play, and I think Billy has done a great job in that capacity,” said Brown.

Beyond X’s-and-O’s, there was a distinctly human touch Lange applied to his craft.

He’s the type of guy who, if you didn’t have anywhere to go, would extend the invitation for a home cooked holiday meal, even if you happened to be Canadian.

“He had a couple of us over for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago,” former Sixer Nik Stauskas said Thursday. “The food was amazing!”

Or, perhaps Lange would serve as a supportive companion to a place to worship.  

“We’ve built a special relationship,” said Joel Embiid. “We sometimes spend time together, other times we go to church. We’ve grown closer the past four, five years.”

Lange was no stranger to going the extra mile for guys. As a result, he forged strong connections.

“I’m really happy for Billy,” Stauskas said. “He was one of the hardest working and most passionate coaches I’ve played for. He has the kind of personality and spirit that is very well suited for a college head coaching job, so I think St Joe’s made a great decision.”

“I’m so happy for him, he’s like family to me,” said Embiid. “That’s big time. I told him I’m definitely going to go check him out whenever I have time.”

With Lange now finished his time with the Sixers, the story comes full circle to a degree. Jim O’Brien, an SJU alum, will fill Lange’s vacancy on the bench, after having spent most of this season working out of public sight as Brown’s senior advisor.

 

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