By Dylan Lutey (@dylan_lutey)
The last year has been full of surprises and adversity for Matt Lange in the form of coaching changes, injuries, and illnesses.The son of St. Joe’s head coach Billy Lange has done his best to push through the hard times on his journey to Division I basketball.
It hasn’t always been easy, but it helps when you can lean on the shoulder of your dad who has more than 25 years of coaching experience at the high school, college, and NBA level under his belt.
Matt Lange (above) announced his commitment to Bucknell in late October. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The 6-foot-2 guard just wanted one opportunity and he got exactly that from a familiar face: his dad’s former associate head coach, John Griffin III, who was brought in as the head coach of Bucknell in March.
The offer to join Bucknell's roster turned into a commitment to the Bison, which Lange announced Oct. 26 via Instagram. He joined Blair Academy’s Jayden Williams in Griffin III’s group of 2024 commits.
“It’s a relief and a blessing,” Lange said. “(I feel like) pressure has been lifted off me and I can go and have fun with my friends. I don’t really have to prove myself anymore because that was something that I kind of dealt with, like trying to prove people wrong.”
Despite his dad’s involvement in the game of basketball, Matt hasn’t always played.
Matt started off running cross country and track for most of his lower school years. He transitioned into basketball in sixth grade when he went with his older brother Will Lange, who is now a walk-on at St. Joe’s, to an Academy of Hoops training session.
The younger Lange was there to check out the workouts — run by former Villanova star and 10-year NBA veteran Alvin Williams — when his brother pulled him onto the court.
“That’s kind of when I fell in love with it, just the energy and the culture,” Matt said. “I don’t think I was just always around basketball because of my dad. I think finally being in a gym and in this setting where I’m on the court is when I fell in love with it.”
His dad may not be the reason he initially started playing, but he is definitely responsible for his second oldest son’s development. There’s a gym near the Lange house they frequent. Even when down the shore in the summer, there’s time for a workout.
“I feel like the way I play is because of the workouts we’ve done and the way he trained me to be this fundamental guard that has this edge to me,” Matt said.
Time for the two to train together can be hard to come by, however, especially this year with the Hawks’ practice space, Casciato Basketball Practice Facility, closed due to renovation.
In general, it has been hard for Billy to get to his son’s games over the years because he has always had his own team to coach. During Matt’s lifetime, his dad has worked as the Navy head coach (2004-11), associate head coach for Villanova (2011-13), and assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers (2013-19) before joining the Hawks four years back.
This affected Billy’s ability to be at his son’s games a lot of the time, but it didn’t stop him from being there for Matt. He always made a point to help him through any struggles he had on and off the court.
“My mom would film all my middle school games on a GoPro and upload them,” said Matt. “We would watch them back and (my dad would) use his film editor that he used for his actual teams for me. I would just sit down with him after games and just watch through it.”
In addition to his dad, he has three brothers: Jake, Marcus, and Will. Jake and Marcus currently go to Episcopal Academy and are younger. Will is currently in his freshman season at St. Joe’s, playing for his father, but has been with Matt every step of the way before this season. They have a strong bond, but have had their fair share of intense outdoor 1-on-1 battles, as most basketball brothers do.
However, when it came time to support each other neither one of them hesitated. They stuck together and helped each other through a school change. After spending Matt’s freshman season (Will’s sophomore season) at Episcopal they transferred to Shipley when they learned that Williams got the head coaching job.
“When we transferred to Shipley, it was just me and him figuring out a new school together,” Matt said. “That’s when we really clicked and I think we really started to click in terms of basketball too, just playing with each other was much more enjoyable. We still had our moments where we would butt heads, but it was really enjoyable.”
During their second year with the Gators, the younger Lange was gearing up for an important junior season from a recruiting standpoint. He was “set up” for a breakout year which would hopefully attract Division I recruiters.
Unfortunately, the season didn’t turn out like he planned. An early-season bout with the flu took away his preseason momentum; on top of that, he had to deal with instability at the head coaching spot. Williams, who was also the TV analyst for the Toronto Raptors, had to be out of the country for several games, Martin Luther King coach Sean Colson filling in for several games. .
“The beginning of the season messed me up,” said Matt. “We were dealing with a lot in terms of coaching…so I think that affected me a little too.”
With the junior season not going the way he imagined it would, Lange prepared himself for a crucial offseason — until adversity hit, once again. He tested positive for mononucleosis at the end of April, which sidelined him for all of May. At this point he also made a grassroots team switch, going from K-Low Elite to Shoreshots HGSL.
After getting healthy again, he turned his attention to team camps, hoping he would land himself an opportunity somewhere. He attended camps at Cornell, Bucknell, and Princeton.
It was the camp at Bucknell that ended up being the key one. The week before, Matt had attended the Cornell camp and nothing really came out of it. That’s why he was skeptical when his dad told him if he played well that he could end up walking away with something.
From start to finish, the coaching staff made it clear that they had eyes on Lange. At multiple points during the camp, Griffin III requested Lange to play a certain way to test his various skills. After what he thought was a successful camp, Griffin III invited Matt and his father to take a campus tour.
“I thought it was more for my dad just to see what he had been working on since he left St. Joe’s,” said Matt.
It turned out to be a lot more than that. Griffin III only had limited scholarship numbers to work with, but a preferred walk-on spot was on the table if Lange wanted it.
“It was five minutes into the tour and we were at the student weight room,” Lange recounted. “He was like ‘my recruiting situation is weird because I only have two scholarships for the 2024 class, but I just wanted to let you know there is an opportunity for you here. There is a spot for you here and I want to extend that to you.’
“I was just shocked (because) that wasn’t really what I was expecting. I always dreamed of getting an offer, but I never really thought this is how a coach would do it.”
Matt already saw himself spending his next four years there.
“I mean definitely,” said Matt when asked about whether or not he was contemplating becoming a Bison at the time. “Me and my dad always talked about what matters to me. Obviously the academics mattered to me because I did pretty well in school. Then, the coaching staff really matters to me too. It just made sense that coach Grif would be my college coach.”
He wasn’t the only who had this line of thinking. In fact, current Miami Heat player Kyle Lowry took it one step further on a phone call with his dad, shortly after Matt received the offer, saying that he should “commit now.”
Billy was against that idea and he wanted Matt to “keep pushing,” play out the rest of the grassroots season and see if anybody else came aboard. Griffin and assistant coach Jesse Flannery were courtside for a few of his games and aside from that there was regular contact with Bison coaching staff through texts and phone calls.
Ultimately there wasn’t a ton of other interest, and Matt scheduled a visit to Bucknell for Oct. 14-15. The Monday following the visit, he committed over the phone and waited a week and a half to announce his decision.
He could have waited until after his senior year to possibly garner more interest from schools or take a prep year, but he didn’t see a point in that when Bucknell seemingly had everything to offer him.
“I didn’t really want to go through the process (for a prep year) when I was really happy with Bucknell and it just made sense for me to go there,” said Matt. “Especially after the visit I could see this is where I wanted to be for the next four years.”
The familiarity with the coaching staff and the belief they showed in him was one of the biggest reasons for his decision.
“My relationship was already so strong with both coach Griffins and coach [Mike] Walley,” Matt said. “Coach Griffin also had a similar journey to me. He didn’t have many schools coming out of high school and he ended up at a place like Bucknell and had a successful career. He has always seen me as someone who can end up being a very good player.”
Lange has big plans for his senior year at Shipley, the coaching situation now settled with former Swarthmore assistant T.J. Ferrick taking over the Gators this summer. He’ll be aiming to help Shipley improve on a 13-14 (3-6 Friends’ Schools League) record from a year ago, one of the leaders of the Gators this winter.
That’s an important piece — his future head coach envisions him making an immediate impact on the culture of the program when he steps on to campus next fall.
“He talks about my competitiveness which he sees that I have,” said Lange of Griffin III’s plans for him. “I feel like I’ve kind of always just been more intense than a lot of kids and have had a lot more competitive spirit than a lot of kids.
“He (Griffin III) sees that and the rest of his staff sees that. He’s hoping that I can come in and light a fire under a lot of his older kids. He’s hoping by next year the competitive spirit in the locker room will be a lot higher.”