Following the firing of Phil Martelli as Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball coach after the 2018-19 season, one Hawks player left for the NBA draft, three entered their names in the transfer portal and two recruits decommitted. Just four scholarship players remained on the roster.
One of those was Manheim Central product Taylor Funk, a 6-foot, 8-inch sharpshooter who had started the previous two seasons. Funk, however, admittedly recently he was still flirting with possibly going the transfer portal route when he sat down for his initial conversation with new St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange in late March 2019.
“A lot of people had put their name in the portal,” Funk said. “That was going through my mind. Then we (Lange) and I met and clicked.”
After a 30-minute conversation, Funk told Lange, “I’m gonna stick it out.”
Lange shook Funk’s hand and said, “Taylor, you’re the first person who has told me that.”
Eight months later, Funk was averaging 9.4 points by the seventh game of the Lange era when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament to the thumb on his right shooting hand. The injury resulted in season-ending surgery.
'It got my mind right'
An all-state sharpshooter in his prep days as the Barons’ all-time leading scorer, Funk’s perimeter shooting hasn’t translated quite as well on the collegiate level. As a sophomore in 2018-19, he shot just 30.5% from beyond the arc (54 of 177) and 37.5% from the field (102 of 272).
“I didn’t have a great sophomore year,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to look at the numbers myself.”
Looking forward to putting that behind him in 2019-20, the injury may have actually helped.
“I’m not glad I got injured but it got my mind right,” he said. “I think that was the best possible thing for me, it changed my attitude towards basketball.”
Funk kept busy with the guidance of the team’s strength coach while his team practiced.
“I was on the side running sprints, or lifting, or riding bike, or doing workouts with bands. ... If we finished but the team wasn’t done practicing, I’d run stadium steps or sprints,” he said. “I really used that time to my advantage to workout. It made me appreciate basketball more.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2019-20 season in mid-March, Funk returned to his parents’ Rapho Township home with the goal in mind to shed weight.
“Coach (Lange) wanted me to lose about 25 pounds,” Funk said. “I was up to around 240. He said guys that play like me and my body type in the NBA, those guys weigh about 215 or 210. That’s where he wants me to be at for next season.”
Eating clean and running on his parents’ 10-acre property the last four months, in addition to putting up hundreds of shots almost daily at the Central Manor Church gym, Funk is now down to 215 pounds. He’s hoping the lighter weight helps him move quicker on the defensive end, where he has struggled to this point in his collegiate career.
It’s why he’s made an intentional effort to defend opposing guards in pickup games with other college players at the Philadelphia 76ers fieldhouse in Delaware this summer.
“I want to get better defensively,” he said. “Little things like that can help.”
'I want to get back'
Funk recently moved into an off-campus apartment in Philadelphia. Fall classes are slated to begin Aug. 24. It’s unclear if the 2020-21 basketball season will get started on time, considering the Atlantic 10 Conference has postponed its fall sports competition due to the coronavirus.
But if the Hawks do return to the court in the coming academic year, Funk will be one of several familiar faces returning from last season’s six-win team.
“We’re going to start at the bottom of the bracket for sure,” Funk said. “I don’t know how many games we won last year. But I think there’s going to be a different spirit on the court this year. ... I want to get back to what I missed. I haven’t played an official game since November. There’s nothing I want more than to get back out there with my teammates.”