Funk winning fans at St. Joe’s

By on January 10, 2018
St. Joe’s freshman Taylor Funk shoots over VCU’s Justin Tillman in the Hawks’ 87-81 OT win last Wednesday. Photo by Matt Libhart

St. Joe’s freshman Taylor Funk shoots over VCU’s Justin Tillman in the Hawks’ 87-81 OT win last Wednesday. Photo by Matt Libhart

For close to 30 years, Dick Flannery has been a fixture at Hagan Arena.

A season-ticket holder for the St. Joe’s University men’s basketball team whose father, Hank, once played for the Hawks, Flannery has spent a significant part of his life at the corner of City Avenue and 54th Street.

So Flannery’s voice is reliable.

And the 60-year-old has some eye-opening observations about St. Joe’s freshman Taylor Funk, a 2017 Manheim Central grad.

“I’ve never seen, in my life, a purer stroke than Taylor Funk,” said Flannery near his courtside seat in Section 113. “He reminds me — not as an overall player — but in terms of his pure stroke, of Pete Maravich. I’ve never seen better, ever.”

Even Pistol Pete, an NBA Hall of Famer, would have been proud of Funk’s effort last Wednesday, Jan. 3 against VCU in an Atlantic-10 game.

With his sweet stroke on full display, the 6-foot-9 forward scored a team-high 19 points, helping St. Joseph’s outlast the Rams in overtime, 87-81. Six of those points came in the extra session, including a dagger ‘three’ from the left corner which gave the Hawks an 84-78 lead with 1:40 to go.

“I knew I had to get a shot up, Coach drew up a play and I thought I had some space. I shot it and it went in,” Funk recalled. “I mean, you’ve got to shoot with confidence, especially in overtime. It feels good because when I don’t shoot those shots, I hear it from every single guy on the team, including coach (Phil Martelli) and all the assistant coaches.”

A case in point? He got yelled at for not shooting on his next opportunity.

“I was open, I pump-faked, drove in and threw up a floater and missed,” Funk recalled. “That’s not my game. Maybe it will be in a couple years, but I have the green light to shoot from everyone on the team. That’s what every shooter wants.”

In his post-game press conference, Martelli acknowledged that there is still work to be done with Taylor. But the Hawks’ boss also talked about a couple of the improvements he has seen in the former Manheim Central star.

“(Taylor)’s putting the ball on the floor a little bit better,” Martelli said. “Shooting ‘twos’, but he’s not as confident shooting ‘twos.’ He’s still trying on defense, but that’s a try that’s going to take some time. And tonight for the first time, he missed some calls — plays that we’re trying to get him certain wrinkles.”

Asked to expand on what Funk has to do defensively to improve, Martelli said, “You ready? Write this down. Guard someone. Anyone that’s in the other jersey. Keep them in front of you, at all cost. He did it in the zone. He didn’t do it in the man-to-man. I liked him, though. It’s just, you’ve got to call it the way it is.”

This isn’t news to Funk. He has added about 25 pounds to his frame, up to 225, since arriving on campus. But that’s just the beginning of his development as a college basketball player.

“It all starts on defense,” Funk remarked. “I’m out there and half the game, I was guarding the (VCU) point guard (Jonathan Williams). My game, I have to guard all five guys out there. I’ve just got to get quicker, I’ve got to get stronger and that will come in time. But that part’s on me.”

St. Joseph’s games against VCU and St. Bonaventure marked the second and third times Funk has started in his freshman season, although he’s appeared in all 14 of the Hawks’ games. His 43 three-pointers — while shooting 45 percent (43-of-96) from downtown — lead the team, and he is currently third on the squad in scoring (13.5 ppg).

Furthermore, going into the Hawks’ 85-78 win over the Bonnies, Funk topped the Atlantic-10 in three-point field goals made per game (3.1) and ranks 32nd in the nation.

So yes, the transition has gone well for Funk. The poise that he used to score 1,925 points while becoming Manheim Central’s all-time leading scorer from 2014-17 is still there.

“I have a lot of confidence in my shot,” Funk said, “and that’s from hours in the gym shooting alone, with teammates and my whole life with my dad (Tim). We’d go to the gym and for hours, (I’d shoot) all ‘threes,’ all NBA ‘threes,’ and then about three or four of five feet behind NBA ‘threes.’ We’d just go and shoot 20 here, 20 there and he wouldn’t settle for anything less.”

He doesn’t get caught up with whether he starts or comes off the bench.

“Coach said it earlier (when) someone asked him, ‘Why isn’t Funk starting?’ and he said, ‘We have six or sevens starters. It’s just that you can only put five guys out on the court at one time,’” Funk recalled. “So, it’s just playing basketball, whether you start or not.”

One of those who could be starting for the Hawks is his roommate Anthony Longpre, a 6-foot-10 freshman from L’Assomption, Quebec. Longpre chipped in with eight points and four rebounds in St. Joe’s win over VCU.

Off the court, too, the transition has been a smooth one for Funk.

“I’ve made some great friends and academics are going well — I’ve got a 3.5 this semester,” said Funk, a communications major. “I’m very, very happy with my decision.”

Beating VCU and St. Bonaventure in back-to-back A-10 games to even their record to 7-7 overall (2-1 A-10) certainly did nothing to hurt the spirits of Funk and his teammates. Those games came on the heels of a disappointing 70-64 loss at George Washington on Dec. 30.

“I just think we came out flat (against GW),” Funk said. “We didn’t make shots, we didn’t play defense. It was probably our worst game all year and we bounced back today. It’s a great win. We needed that one.”

Flannery would no doubt agree. He’s been watching St. Joe’s basketball since he was just 2 years old, having picked up his love for the Hawks from his father, Hank, who wore the crimson and grey from 1939-41 prior to serving his country in World War II.

That’s a long time to be a fan.

It didn’t take him long, though, to become a fan of Funk.

“I’ve watched this team my whole life,” Flannery said, “and the kid shoots as pure a shot as I’ve ever seen.”

 

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