Kyle Sample (above) takes over as the new coach at Harriton HS this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Matt Chandik (@MChandik26)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
Hiring a head varsity coach is always one of the toughest things for an athletic director to do, so when Harriton needed to find a coach this summer after Jesse Rappaport left to take an assistant coach job at Penn State-Brandywine, Rams AD Tom Ferguson thought a little bit outside the box.
Ferguson opted to have two of the team’s seniors take part of the interview process. It’s not often that an AD will let kids have a say in it, but it was a vital part of the search.
“It’s not a traditional thing, but our AD thinks that our senior year is important. He wanted to find a coach that we liked and that was going to set us up for success,” senior Nick Bugbee said. “I really liked it. I thought it was really important to be able to tell our teammates that we know the coach and that he’s a good guy.”
The Harriton search committee chose former Washington coach Kyle Sample, a 2009 West Chester alumnus. He takes over a team that finished 12-12 last year and bowed out in the first round of districts to eventual District 1 5A champion Penncrest.
“I did some research on the school and to me, it was a very attractive job,” Sample said. “We had a good offseason and I think they quickly adjusted to my personality and how hard we expect them to work.”
Predictably, Sample will look to put his personal stamp on the Rams with his unique system, one that thrives when players can get out in space and use their speed. Harriton doesn’t have much - read: no - size, so it’ll have to get creative with how it will manufacture its points. There might be some growing pains on offense, but there’s talent for Sample to work with. At the same time, there’s not much doubt as to how the Rams will carve out a reputation.
“I like old-fashioned ball players who will roll their sleeves up and get to work,” Sample said. “They don’t do it for the attention. They do it to get better and those kids are fun to be around. We have so many kids that are excited to learn. Coach Rappaport did a great job of setting me up with guys who really love the game and I intend to follow up on that and also do things my own way, but I’m excited to work with the guys who want to get better.”
Bugbee will be a major building block for Sample in his rookie year with the Rams. A 6-1 guard with plenty of offensive flair, he’ll be tasked with transitioning from primarily being a spot-up shooter to the focal point of the Harriton offense. Sample lauded Bugbee’s improvements over the summer, and there’s little doubt that his stats will get a major bump. Expect Charlie Veasey to get in on the fun, too. A 5-11 senior, Veasey will stretch defenses out with his shooting and off-ball movement.
The point guard duties will be split between junior Mike Stewart and senior Griffin Berkowitz. Sample’s not sure who will be the starting point guard, but one thing is for sure: the winner of that battle will have earned it.
“It’s the best matchup to see every day,” Sample said. “They’re competitive. They go at it every day, and at any given time, I feel comfortable with either of them having the ball. I want guys that I know can finish the game and can make good decisions.”
Both will play, and Berkowitz is the type of player that endears himself to a coach with his aggressive, tough style.
“He’ll get up in your face and pick you up for 94 feet,” Sample said. “He never backs down and he never gets tired. He’s one of our leaders on the court. He did a great job of getting his body in tip-top shape and he accepts every challenge. I love that kid.”
You should also expect to see a good deal of 6-3 sophomore Lance Chestnut and 6-2 sophomore Markus Bradley-Lowry, the nephew of former Villanova standout and Olympic gold medalist Kyle Lowry. Chestnut can play at a couple of spots and took a leap forward through the AAU circuit, while Lowry has a lanky frame with room to grow, but he’s also a legitimate shooting threat.
There’s a bit of uncertainty surrounding this Harriton team, but there’s also a feeling of optimism. The Rams won’t be short-changed in the effort department, and that trait has a way of helping teams overachieve their preseason expectations. New coach, new system and some new faces in new places, but don’t expect Harriton to be an easy out.
“A lot of teams won’t know what to expect from us with the new system and the new coach,” Bugbee offered. “We can’t control how well we do, but we can control how we play. Other teams in the Central League won’t expect much out of us. Our motto is, ‘heart, hustle and Harriton,’ and we can control being a team that plays with heart and hustle.”
It’s not a bad starting point.
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