FILE - In this July 7, 2016, file photo, Philadelphia 76ers coach Billy Lange shouts to his team during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. Saint Joseph's University has hired Philadelphia 76ers assistant Billy Lange as its new basketball coach, the school said Thursday, March 28, 2019. Lange succeeds longtime coach Phil Martelli, who was fired earlier this month after three straight losing seasons. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Saint Joseph's plucked Billy Lange off the Philadelphia 76ers bench to become the new head coach on Hawk Hill.

Lange had served on coach Brett Brown's staff since 2013 and the Sixers will lose their top assistant with the playoffs looming and with the team an Eastern Conference championship contender. He worked one final game for the Sixers when they played the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.

Lange replaced Phil Martelli, fired last week after a 24-year run that included one Elite Eight in the 2003-04 season when the Hawks reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25.

"As a basketball fan who grew up and played in South Jersey and spent much of my career in Philadelphia, this is an epic opportunity for me," Lange said. "I am honored and humbled to stand among the many greats who are associated with Hawk basketball, and I'm ready and eager to lead this storied program into its next era."

Lange was selected out of a pool of candidates that included former Saint Joseph's great Jameer Nelson. Saint Joseph's athletic director Jill Bodensteiner said she interviewed about nine candidates and Lange stood out because of his experience and commitment to player development. Lange also served as the associate head coach at Villanova under Jay Wright. He was also the head coach at the Naval Academy, leading the Midshipmen to their first winning season in seven years (2007-2008).

"He understands Philadelphia and Big 5 basketball," Bodensteiner said.

He was an assistant coach at La Salle and started his collegiate coaching career as an assistant coach at Philadelphia University, under Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee.

"He did a terrific job. I could see right away that he was going to be a guy who could coach for the rest of his life. Even as a young guy he was great at all aspects of the game, recruiting, scouting, all aspects, and he relates to the players very well."

Bodensteiner said he hoped the current Hawks would stay with the program but understood if they looked to transfer.

"Some of them have a decision to make about their future," she said. "They came here to play for coach Martelli. I will respect their decision. I certainly hope they enjoy the Saint Joseph's community but we will help them in any way they can."

Brown said Lange worked wonders with several Sixers — including former guard Robert Covington — and would be missed.

"Billy Lange to St. Joe's is an incredibly natural pairing," he said. "Where do I begin? He's the son of a coach, knows Philly intimately, is highly respected, a man of integrity. I think he's just going to take off."

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