Dahmir Bishop (above) found out Thursday he was eligible for the entire 2020-21 season. (Photo: Tyler Sandora/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
With the news this afternoon that the NCAA granted Dahmir Bishop immediate eligibility for the 2020-21 season, Saint Joseph’s men’s basketball team took a nice little step forward in at least one area: depth. What else he adds is still very much to be determined.
But after last year, there can’t be anything more reliving for Hawks’ head coach Billy Lange.
The proud hoops program at 54th and City Avenue suffered through its worst season ever in 2019-20, finishing 6-26 (.188). That was the mostly-expected result of Lange’s first season, the former Villanova and 76ers assistant stuck with a shortened roster half-full of unproven freshmen and last-minute transfers; that situation was the result of Phil Martelli’s March 2019 dismissal and Lange’s having to start the program almost from scratch.
An early-season, season-ending injury to junior forward Taylor Funk, one of the team’s few experienced veterans, didn’t help matters much. Lange was forced to rely on a pair of former walk-ons playing meaningful minutes, in addition to three freshmen. Delaware transfer Ryan Daly (20.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.3 apg) did as much of the heavy lifting as he could, but there just wasn’t enough help to make a difference.
There was already going to be that much-needed support arriving this season: Gonzaga transfer Greg Foster Jr., who sat out last season, will shore up the backcourt. True freshmen Jadrian Tracey and Jordan Hall bring depth on the wings, and 6-10 Anton Jansson, who arrived mid-season last year and is thus a redshirt freshman, gives them another big to work with.
As a mid-year transfer from Xavier, Bishop wouldn’t have to sit out too much of the 2020-21 season, assuming it actually gets started on November 25. At the latest, he would have been able to suit up as soon as he was finished with the fall semester; in the COVID-shortened season, it likely wouldn’t have been more than 5-6 games, depending on SJU’s to-be-released schedule.
But it’s a nice little boost going into the year, for sure.
"We are grateful for the NCAA's decision and leadership regarding Dahmir's waiver," Lange said in a statement released by the program. "A special thank you to [St. Joe’s athletic director] Jill [Bodensteiner], [assistant athletic director for compliance] Ken Krimmel and [assistant coach] John Griffin III for their energy and diligence in compiling, organizing and presenting Dahmir's case. The collaboration and effort were exemplary."
Bishop’s eligibility ruling gives Lange 11 eligible scholarship student-athletes, with Columbia transfer Jack Forrest still on track for a redshirt season but able to provide another practice body.
What’s obvious about Bishop’s eligibility is that it gives St. Joe’s an athletic, 6-foot-5, 178-pound guard to throw out on the court and help them defensively.
Considering Bishop’s recruiting background and profile playing for one of the top programs in Pennsylvania over the last 10 years, fans on Hawk Hill might be expecting an instant-impact star who comes in from a high-major level and fits in perfectly, similar to how Ramon Galloway and Ty Garland energized La Salle to a Sweet 16 run in 2012-13. But it might take some time for the Philadelphia native to reach his peak performance in college.
Less clear is what Bishop will be able to provide immediately on the offensive end of the court. Coming out of Imhotep Charter, Bishop was a consensus four-star recruit, choosing Xavier over other Power 5 programs like Penn State, Wake Forest, and Florida. Though he excelled on the summer circuit with K-Low Elite, Bishop had a quieter senior season for a loaded ‘Tep squad, averaging 12 points and 5.5 rebounds for the 2019 PIAA 4A champions.
Bishop never quite found his footing at Xavier, playing 20-plus minutes in each of the first two games of the season but then double-digit minutes in just three of the next eight, bottoming out with a three-minute appearance against Western Carolina on Dec. 18, his final appearance as a Musketeer. Appearing in a total of 10 games, he averaged 1.6 points and 2.5 rebounds, shooting 17.9% (5-of-28) overall and 11.8% (2-of-17) from 3-point range.
Whether or not Bishop can reliably stretch the floor from beyond the arc is going to go a long way towards determining if he’s a role player for the Hawks or a starter and potential standout. Because long-range shooting was a major issue for St. Joe’s, which only connected on 29.7% of its triples last year, 326th out of 350 Division I programs and dead last in the Atlantic 10.
The Hawks’ leading 3-point shooter last year was senior Tolliver Freeman; the former walk-on averaged 5.7 ppg on 36.4% of his 3-pointers. Yet despite that, the Hawks were still alright offensively, with a KenPom offensive rating of 101.9, 193rd nationally; to make a step forward, they’ll need to improve that shooting, but it’ll have to be a collective improvement.
Daly, who only made 31.1% of his triples a year ago but often had the ball in tough, late-clock situations with limited support, isn’t going to see a big break off his 34.7 mpg from last year. Sophomores Cameron Brown (31.1%) and Rahmir Moore (33.3%) are certainly capable of improving on their shooting from a year ago, and the return of Funk (career 34.3%) should help — especially if he can shoot more like he did as a freshman (39.4%) than as a sophomore (30.5%). There’s also redshirt junior Myles Douglas, a 6-8 wing who connected on 32.1% from deep.
The freshmen are question marks, though Hall has been a strong 3-point shooter in his couple years at Neumann-Goretti, and at 6-8 adds some nice size to the perimeter as well. If Forrest gets eligible, he’d certainly give them a boost on the perimeter, as the Lower Merion product hit 35.2% of his 3’s in his freshman year at Columbia and has always had a reputation as a strong perimeter presence.
Bishop is also an unknown in that area; he’s always been stronger as a slasher and open-court finisher, but his outside shot found the net fairly reliably in his high school and AAU days.
If he can settle in as a third or fourth scoring option and hit a third of his triples or better, he very well could see himself playing 20 mpg or more for a team approaching if not bettering the .500 mark. If not, there’s a chance he finds himself the first or second wing off the bench, needing to prove himself at both ends of the floor before he really emerges for the Hawks.
No matter what, at least Lange has those options. That’s a step forward from a year ago.