Ryan Daly (above, in 2019) has been a star player in his two seasons at St. Joe's, despite the Hawks' struggles. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
After Saint Joseph’s closed out its regular season with a heart-stopping win at Richmond on Monday night, Ryan Daly admitted he nearly shed a few tears. It wasn’t that an injured left thumb was bothering the Hawks’ star guard, nor the knee he fell on and bruised during the course of the 76-73 victory. And it wasn’t the number of games remaining in his college career, though he knows that number is dwindling rapidly.
Instead, Daly was coming to terms with the reality of his situation: the good and the bad, the reality of the win-loss record on his collegiate résumé weighed against the family legacy he’d hoped to continue on Hawk Hill, and trying to salvage what was left of a pandemic-shortened season that saw St. Joe’s suffer more than its fair share of bad fortune before suddenly bringing forth optimism at the last possible moment.
“I’ve lost so much in my college career and I shoulder all that,” the Hawks’ star guard and Archbishop Carroll product said, referencing two years at Delaware and two at St. Joe’s where his teams failed to break .500 despite his standout efforts. “I get the most heat on Twitter. I get the most people saying stuff.
“[But] no one can laugh at St. Joe’s right now,” the former Archbishop Carroll standout added. “I think people kind of thought we were going to be easy — and I don't think anyone thinks we’re gonna be an easy game anymore.”
The rest of the Atlantic 10 certainly has to be on notice, considering the win over Richmond (13-7, 5-4) was the Hawks’ third in a row, following one against Dayton (13-8, 9-7) and La Salle (9-15, 6-11). But up until that point, it had been a rough few months for the Hawks: Those were only the second, third, and fourth wins in 18 games for St. Joe’s (4-14, 3-9), which before Feb. 20, had scored only a decision over Albany to prevent itself from a donut in the win column.
What changed? Well, getting the program’s best player back on the floor certainly helped.
Daly — whose stat line is 18.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2.9 apg for his college career, averaging more than 35 minutes per contest along the way — missed 10 games between Dec. 21 and Feb. 20 due to a broken thumb and torn ligaments on his left hand suffered against Tennessee. And though the Hawks were 0-5 at the time of his injury, they’d played a brutally tough schedule that included Auburn, Kansas, and Villanova before the Volunteers.
Without the do-everything guard, St. Joe’s found itself unable to get on the winning side of the register, losing a pair of overtime games, but a number of others by 10-15 points.
Daly wasn’t the only Hawk out; sophomore guard Jack Forrest (11.2 ppg) hasn’t played since Jan. 23 and Gonzaga transfer Greg Foster Jr. started the first three games of the season but hasn’t played since. But while those two would have been nice pieces to have on the court, they weren’t the heart and soul of the team. Daly’s stats this season (19.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.9 apg) are par for the course for his career, but they only tell half the story.
“In my view, and I don’t think it’s even close, [Daly] is the most valuable player in the Atlantic 10,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said. “Whether he’s the best pro prospect, whether he’s the most talented, I'll leave that for everybody else, but value is easy to see.
“To lose him and not have him for 75-85 percent of your Atlantic 10 season, we weren’t prepared for that. The program was not ready for that.”
“He lives, breathes, and everything St. Joe’s,” redshirt junior forward Taylor Funk added. “It’s in his blood.”
That it is: Daly’s father, Brian Daly, played for Saint Joseph’s, where his mother Tracie Daly also got her undergraduate degree. Tracie’s father, Jim Boyle, was the Hawks’ head coach from 1981 to 1990. Ryan Daly’s cousin, Thomas ‘Toe’ Boyle, is St. Joe’s current Director of Scouting and Analytics.
Ryan Daly (above, in 2016) played high school ball at Archbishop Carroll before spending his first two collegiate seasons at Delaware. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
There’s no doubt it’s where Daly would have ended up if Phil Martelli had offered him a scholarship out of Archbishop Carroll, though plenty of colleges were unsure how a 6-foot-4 kid built more like a tight end than a combo guard would translate his game to the college level. Daly didn’t take long at Delaware to prove himself irreplaceable on the court, and after two standout years for Martin Inglesby, Daly decided it was time to come home.
But after redshirting the 2018-19 season, Daly’s career was thrown another curveball when St. Joe’s fired its longtime head coach, hiring Lange in his place. Almost the entirety of the SJU roster transferred out, while recruits like Bones Hyland (VCU) and Hakim Hart (Maryland) had to find other places to begin their college career. Instead of playing on a roster with Charlie Brown (G League), Jared Bynum (Providence), Lamarr Kimble (Louisville) and others, Daly found himself by far the most experienced player on a roster filled with freshmen, transfers, and former walk-ons; little wonder the Hawks won just six games a year ago.
“I was...not ‘stuck,’ because I love St. Joe’s as a place,” Daly said, “But it wasn't what I envisioned. And then last year obviously we were undermanned. It was hard. I mean we lost so much talent, so (Lange) kind of got the short end of the stick right off the bat.”
This year certainly looked brighter, with Xavier transfer Dahmir Bishop joining Forrest (a Columbia transfer) and Foster Jr. joining a talented freshman group led by former Neumann-Goretti wing Jordan Hall. Add in Daly, Funk, and sophomores Cameron Brown and Rahmir Moore — both of whom had proved themselves capable A-10 players a year before — and the pieces looked in place for a bright future, if not an immediate surge up the standings.
Instead: the injuries and losses piled up, Daly on the sidelines for most of it, unable to help. He said he felt like a “caged animal” watching the days and weeks go by, a cast on his left hand with a to-be-determined removal date.
“It was awful for me mentally,” Daly said. “Just because I am a competitor and we’re on that losing streak and if we're gonna go down I want to go down with these guys. Words can't explain how much St. Joe’s and Billy and the team means to me.”
It wasn’t until the day before the win over La Salle, with the whole program coming off a 20-day COVID break, that Daly even knew he’d get a few more games in a Hawks jersey.
He jumped right back into form, playing 39 minutes against the Explorers and dropping 30 points (13-19 FG, 3-6 3PT), with seven rebounds. That was followed by a 25-point outing with seven rebounds and four assists against Dayton, then 14 and eight in the Richmond win.
“I was more worried that I was overstepping anything to hold my team back...I didn’t want to come in there and shoot 40 times and we lose,” Daly said. “That was more a mental thing than physical. But I did see if I came back, there was a chance that we could be in — and winning — some games.”
Ryan Daly (above, in 2019) will be wrapping up his college career this postseason, with plans to go pro. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Daly confirmed to CoBL on Monday night that his college career will be ending after this season, though the NCAA’s eligibility ruling before the season means he could come back for one more year if he wanted. There’s no blaming the 23-year-old for wanting to get started on his professional career, after spending five years in college and getting his degree in communications.
Hence, the emotions that came out after the Richmond win.
“That's kind of what I realized in the locker room, we’re playing our best basketball at the right time,” Daly said. “It's special [what’s] going on right now, but we’re taking it one game at a time and I’m just really happy that I’m able to contribute.”
Next year, St. Joe’s is going to have to learn how to play (and win) without Ryan Daly. For now, they’ll get at least one more game with him on the court: Wednesday morning against La Salle in the No. 12 vs. No. 13 game of the Atlantic 10 tournament’s opening round (11 AM, ESPN+). The Big 5 rivals have split their two games this year, La Salle winning 90-83 on Jan. 18 and SJU winning Daly’s return matchup 91-82 in OT.
No. 5 seed Massachusetts awaits the winner on Thursday. Win, and the season lasts another day. Lose, and that’s a wrap for Daly.
“We want to go out of here with a bang, or send him off with a bang,” said Funk, who’s been friends with Daly since their days playing AAU together for the Jersey Shore Warriors in high school. “And these last three games prove that we can do that.”
The numbers will say Daly played only about 40 games in a St. Joe’s uniform and won only a quarter of them. The numbers won’t tell the whole story: the undeniable effort Daly gave every time he was out on the court, the clear effect he has on his teammates when he’s on the court and the massive gap that existed when he wasn’t. Watching him for nearly a decade between his time at Carroll, Delaware, and Saint Joseph’s, Daly’s will and drive to win were never in doubt.
“I think when (his legacy is) defined, we’ll say it’s really unfortunate that this kid lost his senior year, but without a doubt, he’s one of the best players that’s ever played on Hawk Hill,” Lange said. “No matter how many games he’s played or hasn’t played, irregardless of our record, he’s one of the most competitive, passionate St. Joe’s basketball players there’s ever been.”
“I want people to know that I didn’t quit, even when stuff got hard,” Daly said. “Coaching changes, players getting injured, transfers, injuries. As long as they know I didn’t quit.”