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Jordan Hall found a wall to lean on through the family of basketball

08/22/2022, 10:45am EDT
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

Jordan Hall welcomed the embrace of the wall. It made him feel secure, comfortable. It opened him up to talk for the first time about a troubling past that made the din of the busy South Philly restaurant disappear on a summer Friday afternoon. 

He drew some inquisitive looks as he walked by the servers and a handful of patrons, finally finding a secluded spot in the back, where he stretched out his 6-foot-8 frame over two chairs, across a small table. Then, he leaned on something sturdy and stable—two words missing from his vernacular for a portion of his young life.

He could always find solace in the rhythms of a pounding basketball. It let him escape. It allowed him to imagine doing amazing things before huge crowds, all chanting his name, “Jordan, Jordan, Jordan.” Whatever issues haunted him at home would fade once that pebbled leather started thumping on black asphalt or hardwood.

Then, one week in May 2014, everything changed. It seemed basketball was the only refuge Hall could grasp.

His father, Eric, was laid off from his job. His mother, Melissa, a registered nurse who Jordan was living with in Wildwood, New Jersey, turned his world upside down when she entered the nether realm of substance abuse.

Former St. Joe's and Neumann-Goretti standout Jordan Hall has found basketball to lean on during difficult moments in his life. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

That Hall, 20, arrived anywhere is incredible. He could be an NBA regular, if given the chance. He’s proven what he could do when plied with stability and something sturdy to lean on. He bounced from Cardinal O’Hara, then to Neumann-Goretti, then to St. Joe’s and now in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs, after signing a two-way contract on Aug. 11. He fears the million other places he could have possibly landed without basketball.

In his freshman year at St. Joe’s, he dropped a season-high 22 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 91–82 overtime win over La Salle, the fourth triple-double in St. Joe’s history. He averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, while grabbing Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team honors that season. 

He led the nation’s freshmen in assists, and left the program for “personal reasons,” transferring to Texas A&M and declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft while maintaining his college eligibility. On June 30, 2021, he withdrew from the draft and returned to St. Joe’s, where as a sophomore he led the Hawks in scoring, averaging 14.1 points a game, while also averaging 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

On March 18, 2022, he declared again for the 2022 NBA draft, forgoing his remaining college eligibility. He was roundly criticized in some Philadelphia hoops circles for the move.

No one outside, however, knew Hall’s tortuous, winding road and the hairpin turns he skirted. It’s been an odyssey buoyed by guiding lights who stepped into his life like Neumann-Goretti assistant coach John Brennan, St. Joe’s head coach Billy Lange, Neumann-Goretti head coach Carl Arrigale, his maternal grandmother, Maryann Burke, and maternal aunt of the same name, along with childhood friends Marc Harmon and Jalen Devine.

Though, mostly, it’s been about a young man with vast potential whose exhaustive, selfless attempts to save his mother from her demons that frequently came in the way of his own progress, neglecting himself.

“Jordan arguably came from the most challenging situation of any player I’ve coached at any level,” said Lange, who’s seen plenty in his 26-year coaching career from La Salle, to Villanova, to the 76ers, and now as the head man on Hawk Hill. “That’s not to be judgmental. Jordan to me is a walking miracle in many ways. He’s not perfect. He’s made a ton of mistakes, and he knows it. Nothing major. Nothing catastrophic. But my coaching philosophy is rooted in the word ‘Love’ and part of love is forgiveness. I stayed with Jordan, because I know his heart is pure and his aim is to do the right thing.

“He’s an amazing survivor who went from place-to-place, and I will continue to trust him, because I understand he cares about people, and he’s not as cocky as he comes off. I had to stay with Jordan. I encouraged Jordan to make the step to the NBA.”

Before that step was taken, Hall took many steps in multiple directions.

It started when he was in seventh grade. His mother’s behavior appeared off—like she didn’t care about anything. Her routine was gone. She was disheveled. Hair everywhere. Clothes sloping off her. She wore a vacant look through hollow eyes. She eschewed going to work and other usual things, like waking up her boys, Jordan, and his younger brother Christopher, who’s autistic, for school. The small house that was once kept so tidy was in disarray, as if a tornado blew through. It would often be filled with characters into the early hours of the morning.

“I was in seventh grade when everything started going downhill,” Hall recalled. “In one week, my entire life changed. I knew my mom was dabbling with stuff, and then she went full blown with things and ran with it. In 2014, in May, one week my mom started staying out. My mom was someone who never let anyone over at the house, and she had a routine, working 7 to 3. One week, she just didn’t go to work. I couldn’t understand it.

“I remember waking up late for school, wondering why my mom didn’t wake up me and my brother. We started seeing different people, strangers in the house. I don’t know what it was that she was doing. It was definitely drugs. You would think she had everything going on, she was a smart woman, as a registered nurse. I had structure around me, and then she had these friends over and they seemed odd. I kept trying to talk to her. I knew what was happening. I wanted her to get help.”

Hall didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know who to turn to. He admits there were many emotional nights, watching his mother disintegrate before his eyes.

“I used to ask myself why this was happening to me,” he recalled. “I would go to games and see the other guys at AAU games and school games with their parents in the stands, and I’d ask myself, ‘Where’s my mom, why isn’t she around?’ It hurt. Here’s someone who you think and are supposed to depend on when you’re 12, 13, 14. I didn’t have that. But I knew I had basketball. When I was playing, I could leave everything behind and forget about what was going on.

“I think my mom saw me play one time, my freshman year in high school. I wasn’t angry at my mom so much as I was depressed. But I had to take care of her. I know it’s a lot for a kid to take care of his mom, but I had to, because as I got older, I knew what was happening. I thought what my mom was going through would last maybe six months, maybe a year.”

Jordan Hall signed a two-way deal with the San Antonio Spurs earlier this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

It didn’t.

Before his sophomore year of high school, Jordan tried taking his mother to rehab three different times. Around this time, Brennan stepped in. He was an assistant coach at O’Hara then, under Jason Harrigan, now the head coach at St. Joe’s Prep. By then, Hall had lost discipline. He would show up late to school, if at all. Homework assignments went missing. He was having problems at Middle Township High School. The first time Hall ever really spoke to Brennan came on a two-hour round-trip drive from Wildwood, N.J., to Springfield, Pa., to see if Hall can get into O’Hara.

They were introduced through a mutual friend at a spring tournament in 2016. Their relationship flourished from there. Brennan quickly noticed Hall’s genuine love for the game. The physical ability was certainly there. The backstory was missing. Their relationship evolved quickly. Hall stayed with Brennan for a short period, until he got his home life situated and moved in with his Aunt Maryann in Manayunk.

Hall did not have a bad GPA at Middle Township. He had no GPA.

“Jordan did the work, he needs to give himself credit for all of the hard work he put in, on the court, in the classroom, because there was so little discipline early on, and he changed that around,” Brennan said. “He was a kid who was watching out for his mother. He would get calls daily about what his mother was doing. He took one day at a time, and he didn’t waste the failures. He learned. He got better at situations.

“I don’t think coach Arrigale ever had a player like Jordan, certainly not a personality like Jordan’s. If Jordan was having a bad practice, Carl would tell me, ‘You better get your guy.’ I would get Jordan back on track. He stayed locked into the gym and for the first time in his life, he had people who held him accountable.”

Brennan would coldly warn him, he could be a professional basketball player or be the tallest ice cream scooper on the Wildwood boardwalk. It was his choice. Hall carried a stigma throughout his career. He had coaches in the Catholic League who didn’t vote for him as All-Catholic. When he went to St. Joe’s there were people questioning that.

“It’s why I say every step has been a dream for him,” Brennan said.

Hall didn’t have many adults like Brennan around. Adults that pushed. Before Hall was admitted to Neumann-Goretti, he had to do summer janitorial work for a week to see if he was responsible.

He was 16 and hated it—but he did it.

“When John came down and picked me up, that showed me he cared,” Hall said. “John, this new guy, stepped into my life. He and my Aunt Maryann kept me straight. I always had basketball. I would go to these summer and fall camps. I could always go to basketball.

“But John stuck with me through the ups and downs. He’s been a blessing in my life. I’m not here without him. I moved in with my dad for a time, when I was 15, and I had to get a job. Me and my dad, coming up, didn’t have the best relationship, not as good as we do now. I talk to my dad every day. But when I was young, it was different. I moved in with my Aunt Maryann by sophomore year, and I wasn’t used to any rules. She put her foot down. There was rebellion at first, but I got used to it.”

A critical time in Hall’s growth came when he placed his name in the transfer portal in the spring of 2021, with the intention of transferring to Texas A&M. When he was in the portal, he had a few NBA tryouts, with San Antonio being the first team he worked out for, along with Boston, Oklahoma City, and Cleveland. Between mid-March and late April 2021, Lange presented Hall with numerous opportunities, and urged him to follow what he thought was best for him. During his pre-draft, Hall was living in Houston for two months, from late-April until July, when he decided he thought staying at St. Joe’s was a better situation.

“I had to check my gut and staying at St. Joe’s was the best thing for me,” Hall said. “It was a great time. I wanted to find out my standing in the draft. I worked out for Team USA while I was in Houston. Things began speeding up for me. I was lucky to have John in my corner, because there were a lot of tough conversations. There were things I didn’t want to hear, like my best bet was to return to St. Joe’s. John fully backed me about going to A&M.

“My mom’s situation had nothing to do with it. I needed to do it for myself and see the bigger picture. It wasn’t easy. I’m glad I did it. I’m in a way better spot, mentally, physically, psychologically right now. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”

His Aunt Maryann and Brennan gave Hall balance in life, holding him accountable. Lange stepped in later with staunch discipline on the court. They butted heads frequently. Lange felt there was a need for Hall to try the NBA. What Hall really wanted was approval.

The San Antonio Spurs are one of the best organizations in professional sports and legendary Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich carries a no-nonsense, look-you-in-the-eyes approach.

For Hall, it’s a perfect fit.

The Spurs are willing to take a chance on Hall as an undrafted free agent, as he took a risk on a new head coach at St. Joe’s.

“The guy trusted me when the entire city was killing our basketball program,” Lange said. “Every sage in the city of Philadelphia was crushing our basketball program. I tried not to take it personally, but it affected me personally, because I’m the head coach, right? I was a local guy with the 76ers who everyone loved and got free tickets from, to someone everyone tried to hurt what I was stewarding. I don’t think it was meant to hurt me, but unintentionally, it did. This kid still trusted me to come here. He had no reason to. I even got an email from somebody who killed me for taking him.

“Jordan was my first high school recruit.”

Can Hall make it to the NBA?

“When people think of the NBA, they think LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, they are not all of that subset,” Lange said. “There are 450 contracted players in the NBA. Can Jordan Hall be one of the 450 contracted players? This is what I know about my time in the NBA, you have to live basketball. A lot of guys make the league, and not everybody lives it. Jordan Hall is a good basketball player. Jordan Hall lives basketball. 

“You put him in an organization like the Spurs will give him the foundation that he needs. He knows how to make the extra pass. He knows how to play if he’s not the best player on the court. He knows he has a lot of areas to improve on, but I think he can do it and he’ll outwork everybody, because Jordan cares about the game.”

And the people who have placed him here.

“I wouldn’t be here without John, without coach Lange,” Hall said. “Lange helped me a whole lot these last two years. Coach Lange made me realize that I had to get myself right first; that I can’t save everyone unless I do get myself right. That helped me my freshman year. I had to tell my mom how much I loved her, but she had to get herself right. Coach Lange helped me mature.

“When I announced that I was leaving St. Joe’s the first time on social media, I made sure it was for personal reasons, because my mom was in rehab. I had to try and support her. Some people came after me the first time I left. I had the weight of my mom on me. My brother, C.J., is high-functioning autistic, and that was on my mind, too.

“That’s why there is a lot of motivation to make it to the NBA. I need to make a better life for my brother, my dad and maybe one day my mom. It’s been a while since I talked to my mom. Right now, I don’t even know where she is. But I hope she’s safe. I love her. I’ll always love her. That will never change. But I need to get myself where I want to be. If I don’t, I can’t help anyone around me.”


Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here .

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